Commonly Asked Questions About Diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects how your body processes food and drink and converts it to energy. In a normal, non-diabetic person, the hormone insulin is secreted from the pancreas in response to a meal, and works to "unlock" the body's cells so that glucose can be used.

There are two primary types of diabetes - Type 1 (juvenile or auto-immune) and Type 2 (often called adult-onset diabetes). The causes of the disease differ, but the effect is largely the same. A lack of sufficient insulin causes blood glucose to rise, as excess glucose remains unused by the body. Without the ability to tap into energy from meals, the body begins to break itself down, releasing acids and resulting in a dangerous, potentially fatal condition known as ketoacidoisis.

The symptoms of diabetes, including lethargy, excessive thirst and hunger, and dramatic weight loss are due to the body's attempt to "flush out" the blood sugar that builds up, and its desire for fuel/energy. Left untreated, it is as if the diabetic patient is not eating. Symptoms eventually progress to include a loss of consciousness, seizures and possibly death.

I have been living with Type 1 diabetes for nearly a decade. Both of my grandfathers developed Type 2 diabetes late in life, and I also have a first cousin that has had Type 1 diabetes for most of his life.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have diabetes, a simple blood test can be a life-saver. Discuss the symptoms with a doctor, or immediately go to the emergency room in the case of fainting or seizure.

Diagnosing diabetes
Diagnosing diabetes | Source

How Do you Get Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes results from an auto-immune disorder and researchers are not yet certain as to why the body attacks itself, killing off the cells that make insulin. Type 1 is not generally heriditary, although there may be a long list of other auto-immune diseases in the family tree (e.g., Chron's Disease, Graves Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis).

Only about 5% of all people with diabetes has Type 1. Overall, the risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is about 0.4 percent. Because there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes, the patient will be insulin-dependent for the rest of their life, requiring shots and/or the use of an insulin pump. Some people regard Type 1 diabetes as the more serious of the two diseases.

The causes of Type 2 diabetes also are not 100% known, although a number of risk factors have been identified: excess weight, poor diet and family history. Unlike Type 1, the disease usually progresses slowly over time with the body becoming more and more unable to make sufficient insulin. Most of the people diagnosed with diabetes has Type 2, and experts predict that 1 in 3 people will develop diabetes in this lifetime (48 million people by 2050).

Over the past decade, the number of adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has increased 10-fold.

Fortunately, development of Type 2 diabetes can be slowed or even prevented by losing weight and making healthy diet choices. If you suspect you are at risk for diabetes, schedule an appointment with your doctor. A certified nutritionist can help plan menus, and simply adding 20-30 minutes of exercise each day may significantly reduce the potential of Type 2 diabetes in pre-diabetic patients.

Again, be sure to consult your doctor for detailed advice specific to your situation if you receive a diagnosis of diabetes.

Statistics from the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet

25.8 million children and adults in the United States—8.3% of the population—have diabetes.

Diagnosed: 18.8 million people

Undiagnosed: 7.0 million people

Prediabetes: 79 million people

New Cases: 1.9 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people aged 20 years and older in 2010.

Can Diabetes be Cured?

At the date of this publication, there is no cure for diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2. However, some people have been able to successfully avoid development of full-blown Type 2 diabetes, or even reverse early stages of the disease, by losing weight and changing their diet. That said, not everyone that is overweight or eats poorly will develop diabetes. And, some normal weight, otherwise healthy people may still get diabetes.

With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is compromised due to the body turning on itself and attacking the cells that make insulin. Some limited successes have been reported via pancreatic cell transplants in Type 1 patients, but the "cure" is not permanent.

Type 2 diabetes is often progressive, particularly in people who lack motivation or resources to make necessary lifestyle changes. At first, oral medications may be prescribed to help the effectiveness of insulin produced. However, some patients eventually require insulin shots, as well or in lieu of oral meds.

Again, there is no cure for Type 2 diabetes for that percentage of the population that is unable to take steps to prevent progression of the disease.

Diference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

What Can you Eat with Diabetes?

It is a common misperception that diabetics only need to avoid sugar in their diet. In reality, any food that contains carbohydrates is converted to blood glucose. Thus, diabetics need to watch consumption of carbohydrates and, if taking insulin, need to tailor their dosages to the number of carb grams ingested at each meal.

Not all carbohydrates are created equal, which means that different foods will have a different impact on blood sugar. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which actually reduces the carbohydrate count. Starchy selections, like potatoes, other root vegetables, and corn are generally higher in carbs than leafy vegetables and citrus fruits. High fiber bread (100% whole grain) and wheat pasta are also better selections than white bread and white pasta.

Foods that are high in fat take longer to digest, which can have a delayed result of high blood sugar hours later. Fried food, pizza and just about any fast food fare should be reserved for rare occasions as a special treat.

Candy, cookies, cake and ice cream obviously are high in both sugar and carbohydrates. This is not to say that low-sugar versions are any better, however. As with high fat foods, sweets generally should be avoided, with occasional indulgences on special occasions. Insulin-dependent diabetes usually carry glucose tablets or hard candies with them to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) episodes. When a diabetic becomes confused, shaky or disoriented, quick treatment with juice, regular soda, or chewable candy is usually the fastest way to bring them out of a low. A regular meal or snack should be followed to help stabilize blood sugar.

American Diabetes Association Explains Diabetes

How to treat diabetes?
How to treat diabetes? | Source

What Medications are Required to Treat Diabetes?

As noted above, prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes may be treated or resolved simply by improving your diet and/or adding exercise and losing weight. However, medications are usually required due to the body's inability to produce sufficient amounts (if any) of insulin.

For Type 1 diabetics, insulin injections are required, either by syringe or insulin pump. If you use a pump, only one type of insulin is required: fast acting. A basal rate is set, to give you small doses of insulin over a 24-hour period to counteract the body's automatic release of stored glucose from the liver. Bolus shots are calculated at mealtime, based on the amount of carbohydrates to be ingested. If you do not use an insulin pump, you will need long-acting insulin to provide a basal (typically taken once a day), plus, fast-acting insulin at meals.

If you have Type 2 diabetes, oral medications may be required. Generally speaking, these drugs work to lower blood sugar by either:

  • Stimulating the pancreas to release additional insulin
  • Slowing or stopping the production of glucose by the liver
  • Improving body cells' sensitivity to insulin
  • Preventing the stomach from breaking down carbohydrates

Of the drugs prescribed to Type 2 diabetics, include metformin, glipizide, and pioglitazone. Other oral medications include sitagliptin, saxagliptin, repaglinide and nateglinide. Injectible medications, other than insulin are Exenatide and liraglutide.

Some Type 2 diabetics may get to the point that they can no longer manage blood sugar levels with drugs other than insulin. This should not be considered a failure in any regard, but a positive step toward better health!

Amputations due to diabetes
Amputations due to diabetes | Source

Is Diabetes Fatal?

Unfortunately, diabetes is a potentially fatal disease. In fact, in 2007, it was the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S., and may even be higher because the disease is often under-reported.

People can die from diabetes as a result of ketoacidoisis, from excessively high blood sugar. Insulin-dependent diabetics can suffer life-threatening hypoglycemia, as well. But there are other complications of diabetes that can lead to death, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and kidney disease. People with diabetes often take longer to heal than other people, as well. Of course, there is also a risk of blindness, nerve damage (neuropathy) and amputations.

Generally, a person with diabetes has twice the risk of dying as another person of the same age/sex without diabetes.

With a diagnosis of diabetes - whether Type 1 or Type 2 - you should immediately take steps to add exercise to your routine and improve your diet, under medical guidance and supervision.

© 2011 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 20 comments

Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

Stephhicks68, this is a very complete and important hub for people to read. My husband has diabetes and it is a horrible disease. We discovered it when his blood sugar swung so high that he almost lost his vision. We were clueless about it, prior to that.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Sinea,

I hope your husband is doing better! Diabetes is a terrible disease. I was diagnosed with Type 1 after my twins were born. I have learned a lot about the disease, how to manage it, and what works and what does not over the years. Sadly, a lot of people like your husband do not even realize they have diabetes until much later. Hope all is well. Best, Steph


rjsadowski profile image

rjsadowski 4 years ago

A useful hub, but you should note that both Type I and Type II diabetes are hereditary. Type I diabetes is by far the more serious of the two and it is estimated that one in twenty of all Type I diabetics will die from complications from the disease. I have had Type II diabetes for more than 30 years. My mother had it. Two of my aunts had it and one died from it.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi rjsadowski, the researchers with whom I worked after my diagnosis (I volunteered to take part in a number of medical studies) claimed then that Type 1 diabetes is nowhere near as hereditary as Type 2. Only a very, very small segment of the population has Type 1 diabetes (less than 1/2 of 1 percent), and it is generally the more serious of the two diseases. When people say "diabetes," the vast majority think of Type 2 and then they mistakenly believe that just losing weight and changing their diet will "cure" the disease. So much misinformation out there, sadly. I am sorry that your aunt died from complications of the disease. I have two friends that have lost loved ones to Type 1 diabetes, and I am doing my very best to stay healthy personally. Best, Steph


pmccray profile image

pmccray 4 years ago from Utah

My beloved brother and nephew both past away at early ages, because of this hideous disease. Very information hub. Voted up, marked useful and interesting.


Francesca27 profile image

Francesca27 4 years ago from Hub Page

Thank you so much for this information and taking the time to write the hub so well.


vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 4 years ago

Interesting and useful hub! I didn't know much about diabetes Type 2 before I read your hub, but I know that Type 1 is an auto-immune disease very often associated to celiac disease. It's recommendable for diabetes Type 1 patients to follow the same diet that celiacs do - go gluten-free.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi pmccray, I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your brother and nephew to diabetes! I continue to donate to JDRF and the American Diabetes Association in the hopes that there will one day be a cure. Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Francesca. @vox vocis, yes, Celiac disease is another, related auto-immune disease. I was screened for celiac several years ago and did not have it at the time, but your tip that Type 1 diabetics also follow a gluten-free diet is sound. Best, Steph


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 4 years ago

Very useful information. As you know, my mother died from complications due to diabetes. Early intervention is essential and often the patient has to be vigilant about keeping the condition in check. Thanks for sharing and rated up.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi anginwu, again, I am so sorry for the loss of your mother due to complications from diabetes. I hope that my hubs will help people learn more about the disease and how to live a healthy life. Best to you, Steph


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

I know someone whose relative had to have part of one of his legs amputated because of diabetes. My husband is pre-diabetic and will sometimes watch what he eats but will not get any exercise. Thanks for the info.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Danette,

It may seem hard at first to change your lifestyle with a diagnosis of diabetes, but the returns are definitely worth it. Best to you and your husband, Steph


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

We should more attention about this disease. I know that lifestyle give big portion to make diabetes is more dangerous, like uncontrolled eating pattern, never do exercise. Very inspiring hub and thanks for share with us. I learn many things from this hub. Well done, Steph. Rated up and useful!

Prasetio


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Prasetio, diabetes is a serious medical condition and should not be underestimated. Unfortunately many people do not realize the long-term impacts of not controlling the disease or the risk of fatality. Thanks for the comment, as always - Best, Steph


Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

Hi Steph,

Excellent article. Very detailed and complete. I know I am at risk for diabetes. My mom was diagnosed at 50 years old. I will be fifty next year. Kind of scary. I am being monitored though. Thanks for the great important info.

Sharyn


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Sharyn's - good for you for being on the watch for diabetes. Take good care, Steph


nicediabetes profile image

nicediabetes 4 years ago from Australia

Great hub as a diabetic myself Im always glad when someone gets the correct facts out there, keep up the good work


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you nicediabetes! Off to go check out your hubs. Best, Steph


nicediabetes profile image

nicediabetes 4 years ago from Australia

Hope you enjoy as much as I love yours

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