What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a term that is familiar to most people but they may not realize that the word actually encompasses several different diseases, each of which have their own causes and treatments. Diabetes is the inability of the body to manage blood sugar levels safely. Diabetes can be divided roughly into three categories: Type I or juvenile diabetes; Type II or adult-onset diabetes; and gestational diabetes.
Type I or Juvenile Diabetes
Type I diabetes was formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes because it was often diagnosed in children or teens. This type of diabetes is caused when the body does not produce insulin naturally. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas; diabetes can result from a congenital defect or from an injury.
Only five percent of people with diabetes have Type I, but those who do must be very careful with their health and often require intensive medical treatment. According to the American Diabetes Association, proper management of Type I diabetes includes:
- Blood Glucose Control – Type I diabetics cannot manufacture insulin, so they must introduce it to their bodies artificially through injections or an insulin pump. They must also test their blood sugar levels regularly to be sure that they are not too low or too high.
- Exercise – It is essential for Type I diabetics to get regular exercise to stabilize blood sugar levels and to keep circulation strong. Circulation can be negatively affected by diabetes, so improving muscle tone as well as heart and lung strength is very beneficial for diabetics.
- Nutrition – Different foods affect blood glucose levels differently. By monitoring food intake, diabetics are able to control blood sugar spikes and still receive the right nutrition and fuel for their bodies. Limiting processed and high-calorie foods is very important for diabetics, who should eat a diet rich in foods with a low glycemic index. This means that most foods should be those that release sugar into the blood slowly
- Support – Diabetics need family and healthcare support at all times. Treatment of the disease is necessary for a lifetime, so proper support is essential in maintaining good health.
Type II or Adult-Onset Diabetes
Type II diabetes is the most common, affecting millions of Americans. Many other people are at risk of Type II diabetes and do not realize it. Some ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders have a higher genetic risk of developing Type II diabetes. Older people also have a higher risk.
Some of the problems associated with Type II diabetes are similar to those in Type I diabetes. In both diseases, the body has trouble handling glucose or blood sugar. However, in Type II diabetes the condition develops slowly over a number of years, and may be due to a cessation of insulin production, an inability of the cells to use insulin properly, or a combination of both causes.
Those with Type II diabetes must take the same precautions as those with Type I diabetes. However, if the patient is insulin resistant, he or she may be able to stop the progression of the disease and possibly reverse the symptoms with careful attention to diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Once diabetes has set in and the pancreas no longer produces insulin, this type of management is not possible anymore, so it is very important that patients diagnosed with “pre-diabetes” take steps to manage diet, exercise and general health so that they do not have to rely on insulin injections to manage diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is a special type that happens only during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes does not mean that a patient will have the disease after delivery, but it does mean that the expectant mother needs to monitor her diet very carefully to keep blood glucose levels normal while carrying a child. Gestational diabetes has also been linked to other conditions during pregnancy, so medical care during the time after the 24th week of pregnancy until delivery is vital to produce a healthy mother and baby.
The Dangers of Diabetes
Diabetes of all types can be life-threatening if not treated. Therefore, close monitoring of the condition and prompt action in making lifestyle changes is very important. Diabetes patients can, if not treated properly, suffer gangrene of the extremities that leads to amputation, coma, and death.
Fortunately, most health insurance policies have provisions for diabetes treatment and management. However, diabetes is also classified as a pre-existing condition by most health insurance providers, so be sure to discuss this with your employer or an agent before changing policies.