Diabetes is a condition that impairs the body’s ability to process blood glucose, otherwise known as blood sugar.
Diabetes has become an epidemic in the United States with about 1 million people over age 20 diagnosed with the condition each year. About 17 million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population, have diabetes, a disease in which the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that converts sugar into energy.
Diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, can cause serious health complications such as blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, and the need for lower-extremity amputations. In addition, diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, dramatically increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.
There are three main types of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes: About 5 to 10 percent of those with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. It’s an autoimmune disease, meaning the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Patients with type 1 diabetes have very little or no insulin and must take insulin every day. Although the condition can appear at any age, typically it’s diagnosed in children and young adults, which is why it was previously called juvenile diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes: Accounting for 90 to 95 percent of those with diabetes, type 2 is the most common form. Usually, it’s diagnosed in adults over age 40 and 80 percent of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Because of the increase in obesity, type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed at younger ages, including in children. Initially, in type 2 diabetes, insulin is produced, but the insulin doesn’t function properly, leading to a condition called insulin resistance. Eventually, most people with type 2 diabetes suffer from decreased insulin production.
Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. It occurs more often in African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and people with a family history of diabetes. Typically, it disappears after delivery, although the condition is associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life.
People with type I diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes may need to inject or inhale insulin to keep their blood sugar levels from becoming too high.
Various types of insulin are available, and most are grouped by how long their effect lasts. There are rapid, regular, intermediate, and long-acting insulins. Some people will use a long-acting insulin injection to maintain consistently low blood sugar levels. Some people may use short-acting insulin or a combination of insulin types. Whatever the type, a person will usually check their blood glucose levels using a fingerstick.
Self-monitoring is the only way a person can find out their blood sugar levels. Assuming the level from any physical symptoms that occur may be dangerous unless a person suspects extremely low glucose and thinks they need a rapid dose of glucose.