Diabetes mellitus affects approximately 30 million Americans with about 7 million people who go undiagnosed. It is a condition in which there is too much glucose (also called high blood sugar) in the blood. Normally, an organ called the pancreas releases insulin, which picks up glucose in the bloodstream and takes it around your body where it is used as energy. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the body does not respond to insulin (“insulin-resistant”). Too much sugar in the blood can lead to health problems. Diabetes is a chronic, generally progressive disease and many people are still not at their recommended blood sugar levels, underscoring the importance of individualized blood sugar goals and effective treatment management.
What’s the Difference?
There are several types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is caused when there is a lack of insulin in the body. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system destroys the cells that normally produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin to control their diabetes. Because it is most often diagnosed in children, type 1 diabetes was once referred to as “juvenile diabetes,” however, adults can get it as well.
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or when the body is insulin-resistant. This is the most common form of diabetes, and it can lead to kidney problems, eye damage, nerve pain and amputation. Family history and genetics may also play a role in type 2 diabetes, but a person’s lifestyle can also contribute to causing the disease. In addition to possibly taking oral medications or using insulin, controlling one’s weight, eating healthy and exercising regularly are important to managing type 2 diabetes.
- Prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Prediabetes also increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, which can lead to other health issues such as heart attack or stroke. Nearly 90% of adults are not aware that they have the condition. Similar to type 2 diabetes, prediabetes treatment involves a healthy diet, regular exercise, weight control and possible medication use.
- Gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnant women whose blood sugar is not well controlled. It is usually seen in the middle of pregnancy and tested for between 24 and 28 weeks. This form of diabetes goes away by itself for most women soon after delivery. The chance of health problems for the mother and baby is reduced when the condition is well managed. Management consists of diet, exercise and possible medication use. Women who are overweight, have prediabetes, or who have a family history of diabetes are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
When There are Signs & Symptoms
There may or may not be any symptoms in people with prediabetes or gestational diabetes, which is why screening is important. For type 1 and type 2 diabetes, signs and symptoms include:
- Excessive thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Extreme hunger (even while eating).
- Blurry vision.
- Cuts and bruises that take longer to heal.
- Tingling, numbness or pain in hands and feet (type 2).
- Weight loss (type 1).
Testing 1, 2, 3
There are different types of blood tests used to diagnose diabetes or measure how well you’ve been managing your condition that include:
- Hemoglobin A1C test: shows the average glucose levels in the blood over the last 3 months. This test is used to detect type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. The American Diabetes Association suggests an A1C goal of 7% or less.
- Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) test: measures the blood glucose in a person who has fasted for at least 8 hours. This test is used to detect diabetes and prediabetes.
- Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT): measures the blood glucose in a person who has fasted for at least 8 hours and 2 hours after drinking a liquid containing 75 grams of glucose dissolved in water. This test can be used to diagnose diabetes, prediabetes and gestational diabetes.
If you think you or a loved one has diabetes, talk to your healthcare team about whether or not testing is appropriate.
Beware of Complications
When untreated or undertreated, diabetes can increase the risk of other health conditions, such as:
- Heart disease and High blood pressure.
- Eye problems (cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye problems).
- Neuropathy (nerve damage).
- Skin complications (skin infections and other disorders).
- Kidney disease.
It is important that you see your doctor managing your diabetes regularly to get your blood pressure, weight and feet checked. Your doctor can refer you to specialists to have other organs checked, such as your eyes and kidneys.
Be a Successful Manager
It is important that patients with diabetes work with their healthcare provider to develop an individualized management plan. Working with your doctor to lower your blood glucose levels is key to staying healthy. You and your healthcare professional can make a plan with reachable goals including healthy lifestyle habits, frequent check-ups, and appropriate treatment.
Caroline Pak, PharmD, is a pharmacist and the Medical Editor-in-Chief for Get Healthy Stay Healthy at Pfizer.
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