Background on Diabetes

Diabetes test

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases to affect children. It can strike children of any age, even babies. Sadly, diabetes is often overlooked; symptoms are misdiagnosed as the flu or not diagnosed at all. As a result, everyone should be familiar with the warning signs.

Symptoms:

Signs and symptoms of diabetes include the following:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight change (gain or loss)
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

Note: Many people who have Type 2 diabetes may display no symptoms.

What exactly is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood. Glucose comes from the foods we eat and is the major source of energy needed to fuel the body's functions.

After you eat a meal, your body breaks down the foods you eat into glucose and other nutrients, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. The glucose level (amount of sugar) in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. But in people with diabetes, the body either can't make (type 1) or doesn’t respond to insulin properly (type 2).

Insulin works like a key that opens the doors to cells and allows the glucose in. Without insulin, glucose can't get into the cells and so it stays in the bloodstream. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood remains higher than normal. High blood sugar levels are a problem because they can cause a number of symptoms and health problems.

Types of Diabetes:

There are three main types of diabetes.

  1. Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile-onset diabetes, occurs when the pancreas can’t produce insulin, which regulates body energy. Unable to prevent its onset, people with Type 1 must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump.
  2. Type 2 diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, usually develops in adulthood, although increasing numbers of children in high-risk populations are being diagnosed. Type 2 accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. It occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not effectively use the insulin that is produced. Type 2 is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, and/or history of gestational diabetes. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino American, Native Americans, and some Asian Americans are at particularly high risk for Type 2 diabetes and its complications.
  3. Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. This form of diabetes occurs more frequently among African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and Native Americans. It is also common among obese women and women with a family history of diabetes.

Pre-Diabetes

This condition raises the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. People with pre-diabetes have blood glucose levels higher than normal but not at the level of diabetes. Progression to diabetes is not inevitable; people can prevent or delay onset and work to decrease their blood glucose levels if they lose weight and increase their physical activity.

Complications:

If left untreated or improperly managed, diabetes can result in a variety of complications such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye disease
  • Impotence
  • Nerve damage

Risk factors:

  • Being a member of a high risk group (Latino/Hispanic American, African American, Asian American, Native American)
  • Being overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around the middle)
  • Having family history of diabetes
  • Have health complications that are associated with diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol or other fats in the blood

Prevention:

Lifestyle changes, such as a healthy meal plan, weight control and physical activity, may help prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Sources
American Diabetes Association
Canadian Diabetes Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention