Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of Canadians. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to learn how to manage it well.
Diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin in the body. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, an organ in the digestive system. Normally, insulin controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in our blood by helping cells to use it for energy or store it as fat. People who have diabetes either can’t produce insulin or can’t properly use the insulin their body makes. This causes high blood glucose levels, which can be harmful to blood vessels, nerves, and organs.
Controlling blood glucose is the key to living well with diabetes and avoiding complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, diabetic retinopathy (eye damage) and diabetic peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage ). Diabetes can cause serious health complications if not treated and managed properly.
Types of diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes: Very little or no insulin is released into the body. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or adolescence but can also develop in adulthood. Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes: The body can’t properly use the insulin that is released or does not make enough insulin. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. Type 2 diabetes more often develops in adults, but children can be affected. Depending on the severity of type 2 diabetes, it may be managed through physical activity and meal planning, or it may also require medications and/or insulin to control blood sugar more effectively. Approximately 90 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes: This is a temporary type of diabetes that affects a small percentage (about 3% to 5%) of pregnant women. It usually begins during the third trimester and stops after the baby is born.
What is prediabetes?
Millions of Canadians have a condition known as prediabetes: their blood glucose is higher than normal, but not yet high enough for type 2 diabetes. Almost half of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of diabetes
According to Diabetes Canada, common symptoms associated with diabetes include:
- Unusual thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight gain or loss
- Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
- Blurred vision
- Frequent or recurring infections
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- For men, trouble getting or maintaining an erection
If you notice any of these symptoms, see your physician. Not everyone who has type 2 diabetes shows symptoms. If you’re 40 or older, talk to your doctor about diabetes testing, especially if you have one or more of the risk factors listed below.
Risk factors for diabetes vary. Type 1 diabetes is known to have a genetic link; however, other currently unknown factors may play a role.
Type 2 diabetes has many risk factors. According to Diabetes Canada, they are:
- Having a parent or sibling with diabetes
- Being a member of a high-risk group (Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent)
- Having health complications that are associated with diabetes
- Having given birth to a baby weighing more than four kilograms (nine pounds) at birth or having had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
- Having been diagnosed with prediabetes (impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose)
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high cholesterol or other fats in the blood
- Being overweight, especially if that weight is mostly carried around the belly
- Having been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome
- Having been diagnosed with acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin)
- Having been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders: schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder
- Having been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea
- Having been prescribed a glucocorticoid medication by a doctor
The earlier you notice the signs of diabetes and get tested, the earlier you can start to manage the disease. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to get properly diagnosed, as many of these symptoms are associated with other diseases as well. Anyone over 40 should be tested for diabetes every three years.
If you think you might be at risk for developing diabetes, complete the two-minute Canadian Diabetes Risk Questionnaire (CANRISK).
Diabetes is a chronic illness, but it is possible to manage the disease with medical treatment, careful monitoring and healthy lifestyle changes:
- Medication – Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin. Your physician will prescribe insulin based on factors such as your age, lifestyle, meal plan and general health. Insulin is injected by injected by pen, syringe or pump. It is important to use insulin as directed and to monitor your blood glucose regularly using a home blood glucose monitor. Type 2 diabetes is managed with meal planning, physical activity and, if needed, medications and/or insulin.
- Physical activity – Consistent physical activity helps strengthen bones, improves cardiovascular function, maintains a healthy weight and reduces the risk of heart disease. For people living with type 1 diabetes, exercising can be more complicated, as it can have both positive and negative effects. For example, depending on its intensity and duration, physical activity can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in people with type 1 diabetes. For individuals with type 2 diabetes, regular exercise improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin and helps manage glucose levels. Tip: Speak to your physician before starting an exercise regimen.
- Manage blood glucose – Eating regularly, eating nutritious foods, staying active and taking medication as directed helps to manage blood glucose. Tip: Remember to drink sugar-free drinks, avoid caffeine, consume 15 grams of carbohydrates an hour and continue taking insulin.
- Healthy eating – Eating regularly helps people with diabetes maintain a normal blood sugar level. It’s also important to know the carbohydrate and fat content of what you eat. Food choices should fit into the following categories: carbohydrates, vegetables, meat and alternatives, and fats.
Additional tips for healthy eating:
- Space meals out throughout the day (eat at least every three hours)
- Eat and drink low-fat foods such as skim milk, lean meat and vegetables
- Eat foods with a lower glycemic level (e.g., whole wheat, bran, beans) more often than refined carbohydrates (e.g., white bread)
- Boil, broil, barbecue and oven bake more often than pan-frying food
- Substitute non-nutritive (artificial, low-calorie or calorie-free ) sweeteners for sugar
- Recommended alcohol limits for people with diabetes are the same as for people without diabetes: for men, fewer than 14 standard drinks a week; for women, fewer than nine standard drinks a week. (Learn more about diabetes and alcohol, including standard drink sizes)
Bayshore is pleased to provide health information to our clients and their families and caregivers. This information is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. For more information on diabetes, please consult your doctor.
Diabetes Canada (formerly the Canadian Diabetes Association) is a charitable organization that is leading the fight against diabetes by helping people with diabetes live healthy lives while it works to find a cure.
Interactive Canadian Diabetes Association Calendar
Download this free electronic calendar, which offers recipes that celebrate the diversity of Canadians living with type 2 diabetes.
Canadian Diabetes Care Guide
This website and magazine are for people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It provides diabetes information, articles about healthy living, and recipes.
Diabetes Express is a national direct-to-client pharmacy dispensing and delivery service.
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