What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is when your body has a problem regulating its sugar, or glucose, level. Type I diabetes, most often found in children, is when one’s body cannot produce enough insulin. Type II diabetes, the most common form of diabetes diagnosed in adults, is when one’s body doesn’t use insulin properly, resulting in high blood sugar levels.

What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. After eating, our blood glucose levels naturally increase. Insulin is subsequently released by the pancreas and then transports glucose into the cells to be used for energy. However, when insulin is not present or is not utilized well by the cells, blood glucose levels build up and become elevated. Therefore, if we do not produce enough insulin (Type I diabetes) or if our body doesn’t use insulin properly (Type II Diabetes), our blood sugar levels can become chronically elevated.

What is a normal blood glucose level?
A normal fasting blood glucose level is between 80 and 100. A borderline, or prediabetic, glucose level is 101-125. A fasting blood sugar level of above 125 yields the diagnosis of diabetes.

Another way to determine if one’s blood sugar level is elevated is to measure glycohemoglobin A1C, or hemoglobin A1C. In our bodies, the red blood cell attaches to the blood glucose molecule. This complex lives in our bodies for three months and is called the glycohemolgobin A1C. This number is useful in determining whether your blood sugar has been overall high or well controlled. We often use this number to determine how well a patient’s diabetes is under control.

Why is Diabetes important?
Diabetes is important because it is a risk factor for developing other medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, blindness, and neuropathy(nerve problems).

What can I do to lower my blood sugar levels?
Exercise and weight loss are essential in treatment of diabetes. Exercise directly helps to lower blood sugar levels because during exercise, sugar is taken up into the cells more readily, which lower the blood sugar levels. Weight loss helps insulin work more efficiently in our bodies, thereby resulting in better glucose uptake by the cells and lower circulating blood sugar levels.

What do I do when I am diagnosed with Diabetes?
The most important thing to do when diagnosed with Diabetes is to make your health a priority. It is important to establish a regular exercise routine and to adhere to the diabetic diet. Taking a diabetic class is a great way to learn some of the basics. It is important to have regular office visits to regulate your medications to keep tight control of your diabetes as well as to monitor any secondary medical complications such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney function that may develop as a result of diabetes. Annual visits with your ophthalmologist are important to detect any early changes in your eyes that are caused by diabetes (diabetic retinopathy).

Do I need to check my blood sugar at home?
Yes, it is very important to check your blood sugar at home and to bring those readings to each appointment. Your physician will determine how often it is necessary to check your blood sugar. However, it is best to check your blood sugar at various times of the day, sometimes before you eat (fasting) and sometimes two hours after eating (nonfasting). When you bring these readings to your appointments, we can determine how well your blood sugar is controlled and whether you require an adjustment in your medications.

For more information, including nutrition, recipes, fitness, and support groups, please visit the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org.