Diabetes is a chronic, incurable disease that occurs when the body doesn’t produce any or enough insulin, leading to an excess of sugar in the blood. Insulin is a hormone, produced by the pancreas, which helps the cells of the body use the glucose (sugar) in food as energy. Cells need this energy in order to function properly.

If there isn’t enough insulin or if its function is impaired, as it is the case in diabetes, the glucose cannot be used as fuel for the cells.

Sugar builds up in the bloodstream and is excreted in the urine.

Eventually, the high blood sugar caused by excessive amounts of glucose in the blood leads to a variety of complications, particularly for the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and blood vessels.

The following symptoms are associated with diabetes. They reflect higher-than-normal blood sugar levels.They may or may not be present when a diagnosis of diabetes is made and they may also occur when a person’s diabetes is not well controlled and there is hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

  • fatigue, drowsiness
  • an increase in the volume and frequency of urination
  • intense thirst
  • excessive hunger
  • unexplained weight loss
  • blurred vision
  • slow healing
  • genital and bladder infections
  • tingling in the fingers or feet
  • irritability

Type 1 diabetes occurs most often in children, adolescents or young adults. Approximately 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

In type 1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes are therefore dependent on daily insulin injections for their survival.

Type 1 diabetes used to be called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes (90% of cases). It usually occurs in adulthood, in individuals 40 years and older. Unfortunately, for several years, it has begun appearing in younger and younger age groups. In some populations at risk, it may even occur in childhood.

Some people with type 2 diabetes have pancreatic cells that do not produce enough insulin. In others, the insulin they produce does not do its job properly, creating what is known as insulin resistance. In both cases, the result is an increase in blood glucose (sugar) levels, since the body is not able to effectively use the glucose as an energy source.

Pregnancy diabetes occurs during pregnancy, usually towards the end of the 2nd and 3rd trimester. It is also known as gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs in 2-4% of pregnancies. In 90% of cases, it will disappear after delivery. It affects both the baby and the mother. The child may be larger than normal. For the mother, the presence of diabetes increases the risk of infections, increases the level of fatigue and can cause complications during delivery.

Women with gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.

There are numerous causes of type 2 diabetes and, in many cases, a combination of several factors triggers the onset of the disease. A few examples:

  • Gender: men are more vulnerable than women;
  • Age: the risk increases with age;
  • Being overweight;
  • A large waist circumference, indicating fat around the abdominal area;
  • Amount of physical activity;
  • Dietary habits;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Abnormally high blood sugar levels in the past;
  • For women, having given birth to a baby weighing more than 4.1 kg (9 lbs.);
  • Heredity;
  • Ethnicity: Aboriginals, Africans, Asians, Latin-Americans, etc.
  • Education

There are several treatment approaches for diabetes, the goal is a better blood glucose (sugar) control.

Treatment of diabetes includes:

  • a personalized meal plan
  • physical activity
  • aking antidiabetic medication or insulin, if necessary
  • good stress management

In many cases, type 2 diabetes can be controlled by changing eating habits and increasing physical activity.

Whatever type of diabetes, education is the mainstay of treatment. Offered by a team of healthcare professionals, diabetic individuals can learn about the disease, how to control it, how to eat and how to incorporate physical activity safely. They also learn to make daily measurements of blood glucose (sugar) and inject insulin when prescribed.

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle. Take the test to see if you are at risk.

Diabetes is a chronic, incurable disease, but, it is possible to control it.

Reference: Diabetes Québec, February 2006, updated august 2014