Treat Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you were likely given a lot of information about what you need to do to manage this disease. You may not remember everything that was said to you. Use this website to learn the importance of managing diabetes and what you can do to improve your health.

Having more knowledge about diabetes can help you treat your disease, get active, eat healthy, and feel well. These lifestyle changes will help you manage this disease and increase your quality of life.

You may have questions such as:

  • How did my doctor find out I have diabetes?
  • Are my family members at risk for diabetes?
  • How does diabetes impact my body?
  • How do I know if my diabetes is well controlled?
  • Why do I need to know what my blood pressure is?
  • Why do I need to know what my cholesterol levels are?
  • What do my diabetes medicines do?
  • How do I manage low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)?
  • How do I manage high blood sugar when I’m ill?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes means you have too much sugar (glucose) in your blood. Your blood sugar is high because your pancreas is not working as it should.

Diabetes Explained

Here is the body process that leads to high blood sugar:

  • When your body digests food and drink, sugar (also known as glucose) goes into your blood.
  • When sugar goes into your blood, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin.
  • Insulin helps your body take sugar from your blood and store it in your cells. This stored sugar is used for energy. Energy is the fuel needed for everything you do — from thinking, to going up stairs, to digesting your food.
  • When insulin takes sugar from your blood it helps manage your blood sugar level. The amount of sugar in your blood needs to be balanced — enough to give you energy, but not so high that it prevents your body from doing its normal tasks.

When you have diabetes, your pancreas stops making enough insulin. Without insulin, your cells cannot take sugar from your blood to store it. Sugar collects in your blood and leads to high blood sugar. High blood sugar leads to health problems (known as ‘complications from diabetes’).

How Diabetes Impacts Your Body

When your blood sugar level stays highs it causes damage to your whole body. The main concern with blood sugar levels that are too high is a decrease in blood flow to the heart which can lead to a heart attack. Sugar can also collect in body organs such as your nerves and kidneys and cause damage.

High blood sugar can damage your blood vessels (the veins and arteries that carry blood around your body). It can cause the cells that line the inside of your blood vessel to change shape and stop working as they should. These changes lead to plaque (fat, waste products, and calcium) collecting on the blood vessels causing them to become narrow. Narrow blood vessels makes it harder for blood to travel through around your body. Over time, the plaque can block the blood vessel completely. Narrowed or blocked blood vessels can cause many problems that include:

  • heart disease (heart attack)
  • cerebrovascular disease (stroke)
  • kidney disease (kidney failure)
  • eye problems (blindness)
  • nerve damage (pain or loss of sensation)

Prevent Complications

Take action to prevent problems from starting or getting worse:

  • Take your medicines as prescribed by your doctor
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise and be active
  • Manage your stress and depression
  • Check your blood sugar
  • Avoid smoking and breathing second-hand smoke

Diabetes also impacts your ability to heal. You may have wounds that do not heal because cells in your body stop working as they should and your immune response weakens.

You also have a higher chance of foot problems that can lead to amputation (removal of toes, feet, or lower leg by surgery). These problems happen for 2 main reasons: 1) a type of sugar called sorbitol can damage your nerves and, 2) cells die when they don’t get enough blood flow due to narrowed blood vessels.

See how diabetes can impact different areas of your body »

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that impacts the way your pancreas produces insulin or how your body responds to insulin.

There are 5 main types of diabetes:

  1. Type 1 diabetes
  2. Type 2 diabetes
  3. Prediabetes
  4. Gestational (pregnancy) diabetes
  5. Medicine-induced diabetes

No matter what type of diabetes you have, you have too much sugar in your blood.

What is type 1 diabetes and what happens to my body?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease — a disease where your immune system (your body’s defense system) attacks your healthy cells. In this case, your immune system attacks cells in your pancreas causing it to stop making insulin. Without insulin, the sugar in your blood cannot be stored so it collects in your blood.

There are many signs when sugar collects in your blood:

  • being thirsty
  • being tired
  • needing to pee often
  • losing weight

Find a more complete list of the signs of diabetes »

Type 1 diabetes is different from other types of diabetes because there is no insulin being made at all. In other types of diabetes, some insulin can be made, but it is not enough (like in type 2 diabetes).

Type 1 diabetes is most common in children and teenagers. Although more common in younger people, type 1 diabetes can occur at any age.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

No one knows the main cause of type 1 diabetes. Damage to the pancreas could be from a virus or from your immune system. Some people are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes because of their genes. Many people living with type 1 diabetes have other autoimmune diseases or relatives with autoimmune diseases.

What do I need to do?

You will have to take insulin prescribed by your doctor if you have type 1 diabetes.

Since your body cannot produce insulin, sugar will collect in your blood. Large amounts of sugar in your blood (called ‘high blood sugar’) causes many health problems.

Find out more about how high blood sugar causes health problems »

Taking insulin medicine will allow sugar to move from your blood into your cells for energy. To take this medicine, you might give yourself insulin through a needle — this is called an insulin injection. Another way is to use an insulin pump.

Learn more about insulin, insulin pumps and other diabetes medicines »

What is type 2 diabetes and what happens to my body?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It is a disease that happens when your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to balance your blood sugar, causing your blood sugar to rise. It can also happen when your body does not process sugar as it should because your cells become resistant to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. As time passes, your pancreas will stop making enough insulin.

Your body needs insulin to move sugar into your cells to use as energy. Even with a high blood sugar level, your cells cannot take sugar from your blood if you are insulin resistant or if you don’t have insulin. The cells that are not getting sugar send a signal to your liver to make more sugar from other sources, such as protein. This process can lead to muscle loss which is a very serious condition. This is a harmful cycle for your body.

Type 2 diabetes develops slowly over many years. The disease can occur at any age, but is more common over the age of 40 years.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

The exact cause of type 2 diabetes is not known. There are many risk factors that increase the chance you will get this disease:

  • inactive lifestyle (no regular exercise, sitting too long each day)
  • poor eating habits
  • family history of diabetes
  • being overweight (extra body fat around your stomach and organs)

It is important to tell your family members (such as your parents, siblings, children) about your diabetes. Your family members can get checked for diabetes by their doctor. Finding out you have diabetes means you can take action and prevent the health problems from high blood sugar.

What do I need to do?

In the early stages of diabetes when your pancreas is working (making insulin), you take medicine. The medicine comes in pill form and you take it by mouth with water or some other liquid to help swallow it. This medicine helps your body produce more insulin, remove excess sugar from your blood, and react better to the insulin your pancreas makes.

Find out more about diabetes medicines »

Over time, your pancreas may stop making enough insulin. When your pancreas stops making enough insulin you will start taking insulin. Insulin is given by needle and is called an insulin injection. This insulin helps you manage your blood sugar.

Exercise can also help your body respond to insulin. Exercise makes your muscles use more sugar from your blood. Since your muscles use more sugar, your body reacts to insulin better.

Find out more about exercise »

What is prediabetes and what happens to my body?

Prediabetes is when your blood sugar is a little higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

What causes prediabetes?

The cause of prediabetes is not known, but there are many risk factors that increase the chance that you will get this condition.

The risk factors for prediabetes are the same as those for type 2 diabetes:

  • inactive lifestyle (no regular exercise, sitting too long each day)
  • poor eating habits
  • family history of diabetes
  • being overweight (extra body fat around your stomach and organs)

What do I need to do?

Having prediabetes puts you at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. To lower your blood sugar, eat healthy, exercise and manage your stress.

Your doctor can prescribe a medicine to control your blood sugar. The medicine is only given if you cannot control your blood sugar with regular exercise and healthy eating. This medicine is taken by mouth and helps your body respond to the insulin made by your pancreas.

Find out more about diabetes medicines »

What is gestational (pregnancy) diabetes and what happens to my body?

Gestational (pregnancy) diabetes means you have high blood sugar when you are pregnant. This type of diabetes lasts while you are pregnant and your blood sugar should return to normal after you deliver. Sometimes, gestational diabetes can last a long time and your blood sugar does not return to normal after you deliver.

What causes gestational diabetes?

There are a few factors that increase your risk for gestational diabetes. Your risk is higher if:

  • you are 35 years of age or older when pregnant
  • you have a family history of gestational diabetes
  • you are overweight (extra body fat around your stomach and organs)

What do I need to do?

Gestational diabetes can affect your baby. When you have gestational diabetes, your baby can have a higher than normal birth weight and higher risk of developing diabetes. Both birth weight and diabetes have known health problems. It is important to control your blood sugar to avoid high birth weight and diabetes.

If you have any type of diabetes take action to manage your blood sugar.

After you deliver:

  • Get your blood sugar checked 6 to 12 weeks after you deliver to know if it is back to a normal level.
  • See your doctor every 1 to 3 years after delivery to monitor your health. Gestational diabetes puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes. Eat healthy and exercise to lower your risk for type 2 diabetes in the future.

What is medicine-induced diabetes and what happens to my body?

Medicine-induced diabetes means your medicine has given you diabetes. Your medicine has raised your blood sugar. Your medicine either caused your body to make more sugar or stopped your insulin from working in the right way.

Medicines that can raise your blood sugar are:

  • steroids
  • some antipsychotic medicines (treatment for schizophrenia)

What causes medicine-induced diabetes?

Taking medicines that raise your blood sugar causes medicine-induced diabetes. Medicines that cause medicine-induced diabetes work differently in your body. Talk to your doctor about what is happening to you.

What do I need to do?

Speak with your doctor about other medicine options for you.

If you have any type of diabetes take action to manage your blood sugar.

Signs of Diabetes

Your signs of diabetes will be different than other people’s signs. You may experience all or none of the signs below:

  • Very thirsty
  • Blurry vision
  • Peeing often
  • Infections often (for example, yeast infections)
  • Hungry more often
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
  • Cuts that are slow to heal
  • Very tired
  • Sudden weight loss or gain

There are different tests you can have to diagnose (find) diabetes.

Tests to Diagnose Diabetes

There are different tests you could have to diagnose (find) diabetes. These tests are done with your routine blood work. There are 4 tests described below that each check your blood sugar level. Note that the word ‘glucose’ is often used when describing tests. Glucose is another term for sugar.

  • Random blood glucose test
  • Fasting blood glucose test
  • Oral glucose tolerance test
  • A1c test

A random blood glucose test uses a sample of your blood to measure the sugar level.

For this test, it does not matter when you last ate or drank. The results show what your blood sugar is at the time you have blood taken. These results can be affected by when you last ate and what you had to eat and drink that day.

A fasting blood glucose test uses a sample of your blood to measure the sugar level.

Since food and drinks can increase your blood sugar level, you cannot eat or drink for at least 8 hours before this test. This is the most reliable blood sugar test because the results are not affected by the type of food you ate before the test.

An oral glucose tolerance test uses a sample of your blood to measure the sugar level.

For this test, you must drink a sugary liquid. The results show your blood sugar level after drinking a specific amount of sugar. This test is not done with your routine blood work and is specially ordered by your doctor.

It is important to complete this test if you are pregnant to check for gestational diabetes.

The A1c test uses a sample of your blood to measure your blood sugar control over the last 3 months.

For this test, it does not matter when you last ate or drank. The test counts the number of blood cells with sugar. Since your sugar levels can vary from day to day, the A1c test shows an average of your blood sugar level over the past 3 months.The results are shown in percent (%) and can be changed into an average blood sugar.

How does this test work?

Red blood cells use sugar (glucose) as their only source of fuel and live up to 120 days (about 4 months). In a blood lab test, the cells can show the average amount of sugar they were exposed to during their lifetime to give your A1c level.