Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose enter the body's cells, where it is used for energy. Diabetes therefore causes blood glucose (sugar) levels that are too high.
Types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, sometimes called Juvenile Diabetes, usually develops in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. About 10% of those with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, the body produces very little or no insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes (90%), and it usually occurs in adults, but children can be affected as well. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin or is unable to use it properly.
The symptoms below occur when blood glucose levels exceed the normal range. 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. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor.
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst or hunger
- Weight change
- Blurred vision
- Frequent or recurring infections
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not yet known. However, having a family member (parent, sibling) with type 1 diabetes slightly increases the risk.
Adults over the age of 40 should be tested for type 2 diabetes every three years. Anyone with one or more risk factors should be tested more often:
- Having a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- Being overweight, especially if the weight is mostly carried around the tummy
- Having a history of gestational diabetes
- Having given birth to a baby that weighed more than 4 kg
- Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Having been diagnosed with sleep apnea
- Being a member of high-risk group: Aboriginal, African, Asian or Hispanic descent
Diabetes is diagnosed through a blood glucose test that measures the amount of glucose (sugar) in a sample of blood. Glucose is measured using millimoles per litre (mmol/L). Levels that exceed those outlined in the table below are indicative of diabetes.
|Time of day blood glucose is measured
|First thing in the morning (fasting)
|≥ 7.0 mmol/L
|At any time during the day
|≥ 11.1 mmol/L
Checking blood glucose levels
The goal of diabetes treatment is to keep blood glucose levels as close to the target range as possible. Your doctor and pharmacist will guide you along as you learn how to self-monitor your blood glucose. This is done at home using a blood glucose meter. There are several devices available and your pharmacist will be able to advise you so that you may purchase the meter that best suits your needs. In addition to checking your blood glucose levels at home, it is likely that your doctor will order a glycosylated hemoglobin test. The results of this blood test shows what the person's average blood glucose level was for the last 3 months. The target value for the majority of diabetic patients is ≤ 7%.
|Time of day blood glucose is measured
|Target for most patients
|First thing in the morning (fasting) and before meals
|4.0 to 7.0 mmol/L
|2 hours after a meal
|5.0 to 10.0 mmol/L
- Education: ask your doctor or pharmacist for information about the diabetes education program in your area so you can take charge of your health and learn as much as you can about your condition.
- Nutrition: what you eat plays an important role in helping regulate blood glucose levels. For additional guidance, speak to a nutritionist.
- Physical activity: regular physical activity will help you manage your blood glucose levels, as well as help you lose weight and improve your overall fitness. The recommendation is 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise, plus two sessions per week of resistance exercise. However, before starting an exercise program that is more intense than walking, speak to your doctor.
- Stress: to better manage the disease, learn how to reduce stress levels in your day-to-day life.
Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin injections and healthy lifestyle habits. Type 2 diabetes is managed through physical activity, a healthy diet and, in some cases, medication. Medications can be taken orally or injected and your doctor will prescribe the treatment that is best suited for you. Your pharmacist will be able to provide you with all the information you need regarding your diabetes treatment and any other related medical condition.
Over the long term, high blood glucose can cause complications. To prevent complications and keep blood glucose within the target range, pay close attention to the following:
- If you suffer from hypertension, take steps to lower your blood pressure to within a range that is right for you.
- Have your eyes examined regularly as diabetes can cause retinopathy (an eye disease that affects the retina) and can even lead to blindness.
- Take care of your feet. Because diabetes affects blood flow and causes nerve damage, the feet can become less sensitive and more susceptible to infection.