Although there are over 29 million diabetics in the United States and over 371 million world wide, I’d be willing to bet that many people do not know what diabetes is. In fact, I have met several people at various health fairs and events here in North Texas who have been diagnosed with diabetes but cannot explain what diabetes actually is.
Here is my attempt to define what diabetes or diabetes mellitus, as it is called in the medical field, really means.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when your body either does not produce any insulin, does not produce enough insulin or is not able to use the insulin produced well enough to keep your blood sugar levels at a normal rate.
If your body does not produce enough insulin or does not produce any insulin then you develop an insulin deficiency. If your body does not properly use insulin then you develop insulin resistance. Both insulin deficiency and insulin resistance cause diabetics to have higher blood sugar levels than non diabetics.
WHAT IS INSULIN?
Insulin is a hormone that is produced in your body’s pancreas to help regulate your blood sugar levels. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. The beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin. For diabetics the beta cells in the pancreas either do not work at all or do not work very well.
Contrary to popular belief, insulin treatment is not the worst case scenario for treating diabetes. Insulin injections are actually the most natural why to treat diabetes. However, most people, including myself, don’t like the idea of needles so we prefer to take medication instead of insulin.
TYPES OF DIABETES
There are three types of diabetes:
- No insulin production
- Typically diagnosed in young adults and children
- The body does not produce enough insulin or does not use the insulin well enough to regulate blood sugar levels
- Most often diagnosed in adults
- Accounts for an estimated 80% of all diabetics
- Occurs during pregnancy
- Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing Type 2 after pregnancy
Prediabetes occurs prior to full onset type 2 diabetes. It is the period when a person’s blood sugars are high but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. You can be prediabetic without knowing it.
I failed to recognize or heed the warnings when I was prediabetic. My mother would suggest I have my blood sugar checked and talked to me about the symptoms of diabetes because of our family history.
I now recall being told on two separate occasions that my after meal blood sugars were higher than normal. Each time I would try to rationalize why my sugars were high by making excuses such as having pancakes or muffins that morning.
The truth is I probably could have either prevented developing type 2 or prolonged the development of type 2 if I had not ignored the warning signs of high blood sugar. But since I was young (twenty something) and thin I just assumed that diabetes would not impact me.