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What is diabetes?

While working with tens of thousands of people with diabetes over many years we have heard this question more frequently than you might think.  We always ask, “Did you ask your doctor?”  In response we frequently hear that doctors spend just a few minutes with each patient, leaving many with questions and a serious lack of understanding.  Even when physicians work with diabetes educators or medical assistants with advanced training in diabetes, patients frequently don’t get a complete picture of what diabetes is and how it affects their body.  Here is a brief overview.

It’s not just one disease!

Diabetes actually comprises a group of more than twenty different metabolic conditions.  Medical professionals have divided the conditions into three different types: Type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Diabetes basics

The common denominator is that people who suffer from any form of diabetes can’t properly process food and regulate the amount of sugar in the blood.  When you eat, beta cells in your pancreas check the blood’s glucose level and sense whether to speed up or slow down insulin production.  Insulin is a hormone your pancreas produces naturally that enables glucose to pass into your cells so your cells can use the glucose for energy.

When we say a person has diabetes it means that some part of that process has stopped working as efficiently as it should in any one of a number of different ways.  For example, your body may have lost its ability to produce insulin altogether, your beta cells may not be working efficiently or your body may have developed insulin resistance, meaning it doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should.

Different Types

Experts have divided diabetes into three different types.  Type 1 diabetes (10% of cases) means that the pancreas cells that normally produce insulin have stopped working.  Type 2 occurs for a variety of reasons generally related to the body’s inefficiency in processing insulin and glucose.  Gestational diabetes occurs in women who are pregnant.

Does what type of diabetes I have matter?

Yes it matters very much!  Make sure to ask your doctor what type you have and how you should manage it.  Unless you are using an insulin pump the type of blood glucose meter you use doesn’t matter.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

You may want to see your doctor if you have any of the following: blurry vision, excess thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, excessive hunger or weight loss.

Is it serious?

Yes, diabetes is a serious condition that you should take seriously.  See a doctor immediately if you suspect you have diabetes.  Symptoms can be very mild at first but can quickly progress to life threatening.  Don’t delay seeing a physician, especially if you have a family history.