I bet if you don’t have diabetes, you know someone who does. However, if you have just been diagnosed with diabetes, know that you are one of over 17 million Americans with 2,200 new individuals diagnosed daily. You are not alone!
Diabetes can be an exhausting, overwhelming condition to manage, but we are here to shed some light on the most common diabetes quandaries…
1. I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, what does that mean?
A diabetes diagnosis means that your body’s hormone, insulin, which converts food into glucose (or energy), is not working properly. Normally, food is digested, turned into glucose and sent through the blood stream. At this point, the body releases insulin hormone from the pancreas to fuel the cells. If you lack insulin, or your insulin isn’t functioning properly, the newly arrived glucose cannot be stored and remains in the blood stream, elevating your glucose levels and, if left untreated, causing damage to your eyes, heart, nerves, and kidneys.
2. I’ve heard that there are two different types of diabetes? How are they different?
The most common types of diabetes are called type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes patients produce low or no insulin in the pancreas, which is why insulin shots are essential for those with the disease. Type 1 can strike at any age, but it typically develops in childhood and in the late teen years.
Type 2 diabetes also produces low amounts of insulin in the pancreas—so low that the body’s cells are resistant to it. Those with type 2 diabetes also often need insulin to regulate their blood glucose levels, but they typically also require a regular regimen of healthy diet, exercise, and oral medication. Type 2 can occur at any age, but is most often seen in overweight individuals over the age of 40.
3. What causes diabetes?
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown. However, a combination of the following is linked to the development of type 2 diabetes:
- Poor diet
- Certain medications
- Emotional and physical stress
- Pregnancy (in the case of gestational diabetes)
- Ethnicity—i.e., Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes
4. What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?
Most commonly the following signs and symptoms signal diabetes:
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision
- Frequent thirst
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Severe hunger
- Frequent infections or slow healing
- Extreme fatigue
- Irritability or moodiness
5. Can I cure my diabetes?
Unfortunately, once diagnosed, diabetes will always be part of your life and you will need to make lifestyle changes to manage your condition. However, you can proactively and safely reduce your blood glucose levels if you have type 2 diabetes by losing excess weight, eating healthy meals, and getting daily exercise.
6. How is diabetes treated?
As mentioned, by taking a pro-active role in your diabetes treatment and learning all you can about the disease, you can safely lower and manage your blood glucose levels and lose weight if you make diet and lifestyle changes that promote healthy living, eating, and exercise. Also, you will need to regularly monitor your blood glucose testing and perhaps take insulin injections or oral medication.
7. What makes for a diabetes-friendly diet?
The days of diabetics strictly avoiding carbohydrates and sugar is in the past. Thanks to modern medicine, diabetics have medications to help keep their blood glucose within a healthy range, which means they can get a little more adventurous with their diets. Actually, many type 2 diabetics keep their blood glucose under control with diet alone. Healthy balanced meals and snacks combining lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and small amounts of complex carbohydrates (i.e., such as brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and whole wheat pasta) will keep your blood glucose levels normal and lower your risk of developing serious eye, kidney, and nerve damage.
8. How do carbohydrates affect my diabetes?
Starches or what’s often known as “white foods”—such as white pasta, rice, breads, cakes, and potatoes—are foods that are considered high in carbohydrates. Upon consumption, the body breaks down the food in to glucose (or energy), which is transferred through the blood to fuel the cells. Those with diabetes either produce no or low amounts of insulin that can’t be absorbed by the cells. Unabsorbed glucose remains in the blood stream and poses a danger to the body. This is why it’s imperative for diabetics to manage their carbohydrate intake with a healthy diabetic-approved diet.
9. Should diabetics eat smaller, more frequent meals?
For diabetics, it’s the timing and size of meals that’s the most important. Think about it like this: the more you eat; the more insulin you will need to breakdown food into glucose. However, since your insulin levels are low, eating smaller portions (i.e., 3 small meals and 2 snacks each day at the same times) more frequently throughout your day keeps the body’s blood sugar balanced and at a safer level. Also, it’s imperative never to skip meals and risk insulin becoming so low that the body crashes. Carry a snack with you just in case you don’t have time for lunch.
10. Is it safe for diabetics to exercise?
Yes, and actually exercise is a great way to help control diabetes, by encouraging cells take absorb glucose and keep blood sugar levels balanced. The Diabetes Association recommends at least 20 minutes of physical activity 3 to 4 times each week for healthy blood sugar levels. However, speak with your doctor about an exercise regime that’s safe for you. If you are overweight and need to lose a few pounds, even a 15 minute walk every day can make a big difference!
11. What’s the safe range for my blood glucose levels?
Normal blood glucose levels lie at 70 – 115 mg/dl (3.85 – 6 mmol/L). Blood glucose levels rise immediately following a meal, but should return to normal levels within a few hours time. Diabetics typically have blood glucose levels at 126 mg/dl (7mmol/L) or higher, which if left untreated can cause a collection of health issues—such as eye problems and kidney failure.
12. How do I test my own blood glucose?
Testing your own blood glucose might be intimidating for newly diagnosed diabetics. However, it’s simple to do and you have nothing to fear. All it requires is a glucose meter, which takes a single drop of blood from your finger on a test strip then measures blood glucose levels to see if they are within a safe range.
13. What oral medications do diabetics take?
If your doctor prescribes oral diabetes pills as part of your treatment plan, the pills will do one of the following:
i. Inhibit the release of glucose in the liver to slow the absorption of glucose in the gut and enhance cell absorption, or
ii. Stimulate the production of insulin in the pancreas, aiding cells absorption
14. How do I safely store my insulin?
Insulin taken in injection form should be stored in the refrigerator before use. After it’s opened, you can store your insulin at room temperature for up to 30 days if it’s more comfortable to inject that way. Just be extremely conscious of expiration dates!
15. What are the most common associated health issues for diabetics?
- Hyperglycemia (or high blood glucose episodes) when blood sugar levels elevate far too high, causing headaches, blurred vision, frequent urination, increased thirst, and dry itchy skin, due to one or a combination of stress, or overeating.
- Low blood glucose—due to a number of factors such as administering too much insulin, skipping meals, drinking alcohol, or exhaustive exercising—can cause the body to crash, become shaky, fatigued, extremely hungry, and disoriented.
- Ketones (or frequent urination), which can leave you dangerously dehydrated.
- Infections—especially in the foot area—associated with pain, cuts, bruising, swelling, redness, and skin ulcers can be caused when blood glucose becomes elevated for long periods of time and can lead to amputation if left untreated.
- Poor blood circulation results from high blood glucose levels over long durations, and can lead to sexual impotence, kidney damage, vision problems, or worse—heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases.
- Oral health issues can occur from high, long-standing blood glucose levels due to excess bacterial growth, and bleeding, tender gums. It’s imperative for diabetics to maintain a healthy flossing and brushing regime, plus regular dental check-ups.