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Diabetes 101: The Basics

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Anyone can get diabetes, at any age. Diabetes is a disease in which the sugar level in your blood, called blood glucose, is too high. Your blood always has some glucose in it, because your body needs it for energy to keep you going. Too much glucose in your blood, however, is unhealthy. Where does glucose come from? It is found in the foods you eat. Your blood carries glucose to your cells and uses a hormone called insulin to help get the glucose into the cells for energy. Insulin helps the glucose from foods get into your cells. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or if the insulin doesn’t work properly, the glucose can’t find its way into your cells, so it stays in the blood. This is how you get high blood glucose, or high blood sugar.

According to the American Diabetes Association there are more than 20 million children and adults living with diabetes in the United States, and an additional 50 million with pre-diabetes. Out of those numbers, around six million don’t even know they have diabetes. In Tennessee, officials report about 530,000 children and adults are living with diabetes, and an additional 50,000 Tennesseans are living with pre-diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin

Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. In this form of diabetes, the body simply can’t make insulin. Treatment for Type 1 diabetes includes taking insulin, making healthy food choices, being physically active, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. Having Type 1 diabetes increases the risk for long-term complications such as heart disease, kidney damage, and blindness. This type of diabetes is less common than Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Check your blood sugar

Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes. People can develop Type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. And due to unhealthy lifestyle choices among our nation’s young people, the rate of children with Type 2 diabetes has greatly increased over the last 10 years. If left untreated, high blood sugar levels caused by Type 2 diabetes can lead to complications like heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, blindness, and amputations.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes

Some women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is caused by hormonal changes and insulin shortage that can be brought on during pregnancy. Although this form of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who has had it is more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later on. Pregnant women should see their health care provider to be screened and treated, if necessary, for gestational diabetes.

Pre-Diabetes

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Before developing diabetes, most people will develop pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes involves blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be defined as diabetes. Often, pre-diabetes has no signs or symptoms. But it’s important to watch carefully for the classic symptoms of diabetes, which are excessive thirst and frequent urination. The same factors that increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes also increase your risk for pre-diabetes. Many people are diagnosed with pre-diabetes after blood tests are performed for another condition or as part of a routine physical exam.

Pre-diabetes should not be ignored, because it means that you are at a much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The good news is that research has shown that if you take action to manage your blood glucose when you have pre-diabetes, you can delay or prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Eating healthier foods, getting more physical activity, and losing weight can bring blood sugar levels back to normal. Even if diabetes runs in your family, making these healthy lifestyle changes can help you prevent the disease.