Diabetes: An Introduction

Basic diabetes information that will help you understand and care for your loved one’s condition.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common and serious chronic diseases in the United States. About 16 million Americans have diabetes, 5.4 million of whom do not know they have the disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness, end-stage renal disease, and nontraumatic lower-extremity amputations (as a result of nerve disease). People with diabetes are 2–4 times more likely to have coronary heart disease and stroke than people without diabetes. In addition, poorly controlled diabetes can complicate pregnancy—birth defects are more common in babies born to women with diabetes.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy needed for daily life. There are three main types of diabetes, all of which are characterized by high levels of blood glucose (sugar).

Type 1 Diabetes

Also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile-onset diabetes.

  • Results when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
  • People with type 1 diabetes need daily injections of insulin to live.
  • Develops most often in children or young adults and accounts for about 8–10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the United States.
  • Although risk factors are not well defined, autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved in the disease’s development.

Type 2 Diabetes

Also called noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes.

  • Occurs when the body makes enough insulin but cannot use it effectively.
  • Usually develops in adults over the age of 40.
  • About 90–95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2; about 80 percent are overweight.
  • More common among older; obese people who have a family history of diabetes; have had gestational diabetes; and are of African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native American ethnicities.

Gestational Diabetes

  • Develops or is discovered during pregnancy.
  • Usually disappears when the pregnancy is over.
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

What Are The Symptoms Of Diabetes?

Type 1 Symptoms:

  • Usually develop over a short period of time, although beta cell destruction can begin months, even years, before symptoms occur.
  • Increased thirst and urination.
  • Constant hunger.
  • Weight loss.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • If not treated with insulin, a person with type 1 diabetes can lapse into a life-threatening coma.

Type 2 Symptoms:

  • Develop gradually and not as noticeable as type 1 symptoms.
  • Fatigue.
  • Frequent urination (especially at night).
  • Unusual thirst.
  • Weight loss.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Slow-healing wounds and sores.

How Is Diabetes Managed?

Diabetes is called a self-managed disease, meaning that your loved one can probably take responsibility for his or her own day-to-day care. Much daily care involves keeping blood glucose near normal levels at all times. Studies show that controlling blood sugar levels lowers the risk of some complications of diabetes, such as eye and heart disease and nerve damage, so it’s important for your loved one to stick to his or her diabetes management plan as closely as possible.

Management Of Type 1 Diabetes:

If your loved one has type 1 diabetes, he or she will need daily insulin injections. Treatment requires a strict regimen that typically includes a carefully calculated diet, planned physical activity, self-testing of blood glucose, and multiple daily insulin injections.

Management Of Type 2 Diabetes:

If your loved one has type 2 diabetes, his or her treatment plan will include diet management, exercise, self-testing of blood glucose, and, perhaps, oral medication and/or insulin. Approximately 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes require insulin injections.

Tests For Measuring Blood Sugar.

There Are Two Different Tests To Measure Blood Sugar:

  • The hemoglobin A1c test (hee´-mo-glo-bin A-one-c) performed by a health care provider measures your loved one’s blood sugar over the past 3 months. It’s the best way to know if his or her blood sugar is under control.
  • A finger-stick test (self-test) uses a blood glucose meter to measure your loved one’s blood sugar at the time you test.

Both tests are needed to get a complete picture of your loved one’s blood sugar control.

What Is A Good Hemoglobin A1C Testing Goal?

If your loved one’s test result is less than 7 percent, his or her treatment plan is probably working and it is likely that his or her blood sugar is under control.

A high test result (greater than 8 percent) means that your loved one has a greater chance of getting eye disease, kidney disease, or nerve damage. You may need to work with your loved one’s health care provider to develop a more effective treatment plan.

How Often Is This Test Needed?

Your loved one should have a hemoglobin A1c test at least two times a year. Get the test more often if his or her blood sugar remains too high or if the health care provider makes any change in your loved one’s treatment plan.

The Finger-Stick Test

What Is The Importance Of A Finger-Stick Test?

This test helps your loved one see how food, physical activity, and diabetes medicine affect his or her blood sugar. The readings from these tests can help your loved one manage his or her diabetes day-by-day or even hour-by-hour. Keep a record of test results and review it with your loved one’s health care provider.

What Is A Good Finger-Stick Test Blood Sugar Goal?

Ideal goals for most people with diabetes using a blood glucose meter are:

  • Before meals: 80-120 mg/dl
  • At bedtime: 100-140 mg/dl

Everyone with diabetes is different, however, so you and your loved one should consult a doctor about your loved one’s ideal blood sugar goals.

How Often Should This Test Be Done?

Finger-stick tests are usually done before meals and/or at bedtime. Ask your health care provider how often to test your loved one’s blood sugar.

My Loved One Uses A Self-Test. Does He Or She Need The Hemoglobin A1C Test?

Yes. The results of each test will tell you, and your health care provider, whether your loved one’s blood sugar is under control. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about how often he or she needs each test.

Does Insurance Pay For Finger-Stick Testing Supplies?

As of 1998 Medicare pays for finger-stick testing supplies for people with diabetes. If your loved one has Medicare insurance, ask his or her health care provider for details.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: The ABCs of Testing for Blood Sugar Control, NIH Publication No. NDEP-10, prepared by the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases.

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