November is diabetes awareness month. I thought it would be a good idea to kick off my involvement by writing a post about what diabetes is, who gets it, and what you can do to get and stay healthy with diabetes.
What is diabetes?
There are several types of diabetes, and many subtypes. Type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes are probably terms you have heard because they are the most common, but what are they?
Type 1 diabetes – This is an autoimmune disease. When you develop type 1 diabetes this means your body’s own immune system has attacked the insulin producing cells in your pancreas and destroyed them all. The insulin producing cells can not be replaced, so this is a permanent condition, incurable. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to keep their blood glucose level from rising too high and causing illness or death. Type 1 diabetics must check their blood glucose level many times a day in order to know if their blood glucose is stable, too high, or too low. If it is too high they must take extra insulin to stabilize it. If it is too low, they must ingest glucose (sugar, carbohydrates) in order to stabilize it. It is not an easy task and requires a lot of work and vigilance to keep blood glucose at a normal range. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to many health problems and/or death. It is very possible to live a healthy,happy, and normal life with type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes – This is a type of diabetes where the body still produces insulin but the body does not use it efficiently. In some cases the body does not produce enough insulin, but in most cases it is the cells that can not use the insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. The patient should be checking their blood glucose level regularly to make sure their blood glucose is within the acceptable range.Depending on the individual case, type 2 diabetes can be treated through many different tools. Usually your doctor will prescribe a combination of pills, diet and exercise, and possibly insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes is not curable, once you have it you have it for life. It is possible to control it well enough that you do not notice any symptoms, but it is still there and if you relax your tight control it will show its ugly face again.
Gestational diabetes – This is the only type of diabetes that is curable. It is only found in pregnant women, and usually goes away once the baby is born. Gestational diabetes is usually treated with diet and exercise, but in some cases pills or insulin injections are prescribed. The patient should check their blood glucose level regularly to be sure their blood glucose level is within the normal rage. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point.
Who gets diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes – Absolutely anyone can develop type 1 diabetes. You are at higher risk if type 1 runs in your family. The disease can strike at any age but usually hits before the age of 18. There is no human being on the face of this earth that is not at risk for type 1 diabetes. There is no way to prevent it and no way to cure it once you have it. The good news is that type 1 diabetes is pretty rare.
Type 2 diabetes – Anyone can develop type 2 diabetes. You are at higher risk if it runs in your family, if you are overweight, older, sedentary, or eat a high carbohydrate diet. But even thin, young, healthy, active people can develop type 2 diabetes, they are just at lower risk. Type 2 diabetes is common but incurable.
Gestational diabetes – This type of diabetes only occurs in pregnant women. It usually goes away just after giving birth.
How can I live healthy with diabetes?
A diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 diabetes is permanent, there is no cure. You might find yourself shocked, heartbroken, angry, and frightened at diagnosis, but rest assured that you can be healthy, happy, and the same you, even with diabetes.
Blood glucose testing – There is no way to control your diabetes and be healthy without blood glucose testing. If you don’t check your BG regularly then you won’t know a thing about where you stand in your control, if your care plan is working, or if you need to try a new treatment.
Type 1 diabetics must check their BG often, usually 4-8 times a day because BG can change quickly and drastically with type 1. It is helpful to use a continuous glucose monitor as well. This device tracks glucose levels continuously and can be used to track patterns and find out how medication, activity, and diet are affecting glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetics are usually able to get away with testing less often, but still should check regularly (as often as your doctor deems appropriate). If you are having trouble getting your type 2 under control you may benefit from a continuous glucose monitor.
Diet – It is very important that as a diabetic you follow a healthy diet. Many diabetics follow many different types of diet and do just fine. The right diet for good control depends on you; your lifestyle and health needs will determine what diet works for you. I personally find a low carbohydrate, high fat diet works best for me. For you it might do real well, or maybe a paleo diet, or a low calorie, or a normal diet that you customize to your needs. When finding the right diet for you just check your blood glucose level often enough to see how the food you’re eating affects your numbers.
Exercise – As diabetics it is important to get adequate exercise. Exercise is needed for overall good health, and for blood glucose control. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity so your body will need less insulin and use insulin more efficiently. Unfortunately diabetics are at higher risk for many health problems such as heart disease. Exercise can help to keep these complications away. Again, amount of exercise and type of exercise is up to you individually. Again, check your blood glucose level often when trying to figure out an appropriate exercise routine.
Medication – The vast majority of diabetics are on some form of medication or insulin to help control their blood glucose level.
Type 1 diabetics must take insulin injections (or use an insulin pump) since their pancreas produces no insulin. Dosage, frequency, and type of insulins used differs from person to person based on individual needs. Some type 1 diabetics also take pills to help with insulin resistance. Many type 1 diabetics also take a low dose of Lisinopril to help protect the kidneys since diabetics are at high risk for kidney disease.
Type 2 diabetics often take pills to help control their blood glucose level. They may also be prescribed insulin injections. They may also be prescribed low dose Lisinopril to protect the kidneys.
No matter what type of diabetes you have and what kind of medicine or insulin you are prescribed it is important that you take it as prescribed and work with your doctor to adjust it as needed for optimal diabetes control.
Balance – No matter what type of diabetic you are it is extremely important that you find the right balance between all of the above. It’s all about balancing diet, activity, and medication to find and keep normal blood glucose levels. It is difficult and requires constant adjustment, and never ending vigilance.
No one ever said being a diabetic is easy. But it doesn’t have to destroy your life. It takes adjustment,but you can do it.
Happiness and good health to you!