Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body cannot regulate the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood.

Glucose comes from the food you eat. It's a source of energy for your body. But your body needs to process it the right way, using insulin, a chemical made in the pancreas. Insulin helps glucose pass from your blood into your cells.

If you are diabetic, either your pancreas doesn't make enough insulin or your cells don't respond to insulin. So, glucose builds up in your blood and goes unused. Your body may not receive the energy it needs.

There are 3 main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes - Develops mostly in children and young adults
  • Type 2 diabetes - The most common type; it mostly affects people who are overweight
  • Gestational diabetes - Develops in pregnant women and usually goes away after the baby is born, although it may increase the risk of future Type 2 diabetes

Diabetes can be controlled but not cured. If it's not controlled, diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and other serious health problems.
Anyone can get diabetes, but your risk is higher if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Exercise less than 3 times a week
  • Had diabetes during pregnancy
  • Are over 45 years old
  • Have high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Are African American, Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American or Pacific Islander
  • Have a family member with diabetes

Diabetes Symptoms

Some symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Extreme thirst or hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Urinating a lot
  • Losing weight for no reason
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Blurred vision
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet

The onset of symptoms is sudden for type 1 diabetes, but can be gradual - almost unnoticeable - for type 2 diabetes.

Not everyone with diabetes has these symptoms. Some may not even know they're sick, as damage to their body progresses. The only sure way to know you have diabetes is to see your doctor for a blood glucose test.

Diabetes Diagnosis

A urine analysis may show high blood sugar. But a urine test alone does not diagnose diabetes.

Your health care provider may suspect that you have diabetes if your blood sugar level is higher than 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L). To confirm the diagnosis, one or more of the following tests must be done.

Blood tests:

  • Fasting blood glucose level. Diabetes is diagnosed if the fasting glucose level is higher than 126 mg/dL (7.0 mmol/L) on two different tests. Levels between 100 and 126 mg/dL (5.5 and 7.0 mmol/L) are called impaired fasting glucose or prediabetes. These levels are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
  • Hemoglobin A1c (A1C) test. Normal is less than 5.7%; prediabetes is 5.7% to 6.4%; and diabetes is 6.5% or higher.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test. Diabetes is diagnosed if the glucose level is higher than 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) 2 hours after drinking a sugar drink (this test is used more often for type 2 diabetes).

Screening for type 2 diabetes in people who have no symptoms is recommended for:

  • Overweight children who have other risk factors for diabetes, starting at age 10 and repeated every 3 years
  • Overweight adults (BMI of 25 or higher) who have other risk factors
  • Adults over age 45, repeated every 3 years

Diabetes Treatment

When treating diabetes, the goal is to keep blood glucose as close as possible to normal levels. Since adults with diabetes are at high risk for cardiovascular disease, managing blood pressure and cholesterol is also important.

Treatment for diabetes can include:

  • Healthy eating (limiting simple carbohydrates)
  • Physical activity (ideally 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week)
  • Quitting smoking
  • Insulin
  • Oral medication

Most people with diabetes must check their blood glucose levels several times a day with a blood glucose monitor.

Diabetes and Endocrinology Center

Wake Forest Baptist’s Diabetes and Endocrinology Center, a service of NC Baptist Hospital, is devoted to proper diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and disorders of the endocrine system. Our multidisciplinary team works to help patients get the care they need. Our goal for every patient is diabetes management and prevention of associated complications from this disease.

Insulin Pump

An insulin pump is an electronic device that’s used to help you manage your diabetes. Watch to learn more about how they work from Sonya Jeffries, NP.