Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to properly use or produce insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas to store glucose (energy for your body) from the blood in different parts of the body for later use. When insulin is not working effectively or is not being produced, this excess glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood.
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes
used to be known as “juvenile diabetes” because many people are diagnosed with this condition as children. Type 1 occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin, leading to high blood sugar. It is still unclear what exactly causes type 1 diabetes, but it may have to do with genetics or environmental factors, or some combination of both. People diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are required to use insulin each day to control the condition.
Type 2 diabetes
also involves high levels of sugar that accumulate in the blood. The insulin produced by the pancreas is not used effectively by the body in type 2 diabetes. Type 2 has many specific risk factors (e.g., family history, excessive weight, and ethnicity) and may be preventable. In recent years, there has been a large increase in the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, possibly due to increasing diet and obesity issues in Canada.
Overall, there are close to 3 million Canadians living with a diagnosis of diabetes and many more have the condition but have yet to be diagnosed. Diabetes can be a manageable condition if it is well-controlled, but uncontrolled diabetes over a long period of time leads to an increased risk of developing other health problems, some of which are very serious, such as kidney and heart disease. There are certain risk factors
associated with the development of diabetes (particularly for type 2):
- A family history of diabetes, especially if it is a close relative such as a parent
- Ethnicity (e.g., people of Aboriginal, Asian, or African ancestry may be at higher risk)
- Being overweight, especially if excess weight is located on your mid-section
- A previous diagnosis of “gestational” diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
- Being diagnosed with “pre-diabetes” conditions such as “impaired glucose tolerance,” “impaired fasting glucose,” or “metabolic syndrome”
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have symptoms, including:
- Weight loss
- Extreme thirst or hunger
- Frequent urination
- Feeling unusually tired
- Changes in vision
- Tingling or numbness in the feet or hands
A confirmed diagnosis of diabetes can be done using a simple blood test that measures your blood sugar. If you are experiencing any symptoms, or if you are at risk of developing diabetes, arrange to have yourself diagnosed by a doctor. While a diagnosis of diabetes can be difficult, the condition is treatable and there are many strategies you can use that will help you enjoy a healthy lifestyle and that may reduce the risk of developing complications.