You or someone you know may experience frequent urination or extreme thirst. Unexplained weight loss may be a problem, or perhaps a there’s fruity smell to the breath. Those are common symptoms of a chronic disease called diabetes.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops functioning properly. The pancreas is a gland – about six inches long and perched behind the stomach – that produces the hormone insulin. Insulin regulates the levels of glucose in the body. When the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t use the insulin it does produce well, glucose stays in the blood and doesn’t move into the cells where it is needed for energy.
The Dynamic Duo: How Insulin and Glucose Work
Together insulin and glucose allow you to engage in your daily routine task like working and going to school – and more rigorous activity like running, lifting weights or doing yoga.
It is a delicate balance between insulin being secreted from the pancreas and its ability to allow sugar to pass into your cells to provide energy. This is what the cycle looks like: the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. The insulin allows glucose (sugar) to enter your cells for use as energy. It also regulates the amount of glucose in your blood – so as glucose levels in your blood fall, the amount of insulin secreted from the pancreas also drops.
Different Types of Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. It is a chronic condition caused by different factors including genetics. Some viruses may also trigger the condition. It typically appears in childhood or adolescence but can also develop during adulthood.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes Include:
- increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Bed-wetting in children who previously didn't wet the bed during the night
- Extreme hunger
- Unintended weight loss
- Irritability and other mood changes
- Fatigue and weakness
- Blurred vision
When any of these symptoms occur, visit your health provider to determine whether your glucose levels are too high. A medical professional will order a series of diagnostic tests to determine whether your symptoms are diabetes related. Those tests could include a random blood sugar test, performed at a random time, or a fasting blood sugar test, taken after an overnight fast. Another test I the hemoglobin (A1C) test which measures how much sugar is attached to the oxygen-carrying protein, hemoglobin, found in your red blood cells.
People who have Type 1 diabetes are insulin dependent and will need insulin therapy throughout their lives. Type 2 diabetes is the more common of the two conditions. In Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin well. It is typically found in middle-age and older adults and known as adult-onset diabetes.
The symptoms for Type 2 diabetes are similar to those for Type 1:
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Weight loss
- Blurry vision
- Frequent urination
- Slow-healing wounds
Treatment for Type 2 diabetes would include healthy eating, exercise, and regular blood sugar monitoring. Your doctor may also decide whether you need medication or insulin therapy.
Risk Factors for Diabetes
While experts don’t fully understand what triggers diabetes, there are certain risk factors of which to be aware. The major risk factor for Type 1 diabetes includes genetics. If a parent or sibling has a history of Type 1 diabetes, then your risk is greater of developing the condition.
For Type 2 diabetes, researchers aren’t certain what triggers this condition either, but there are risk factors that make getting Type 2 diabetes more likely. Those factors include obesity, lack of exercise, family history, age (risk increases as you age), high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. While Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, there are lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk for Type 2 such as eating a healthy diet, exercising and controlling your weight.
Unchecked, diabetes can lead to numerous complications including heart disease, kidney damage, eye damage, and hearing impairment.
How to Get Checked for Diabetes
The first step in determining whether you have diabetes is to visit your health provider, especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms. Several blood tests can be performed that can help the doctor determine if you have diabetes and which type you have.
- Fasting blood glucose test – checks your glucose level after a short fast
- Glucose Tolerance Test – used to screen for pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes
- Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) – gives a snapshot of your average blood sugar levels for the past three months
Regardless of which type of diabetes, it is important to get on a treatment plan and stick with it.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Diabetes Association