What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a condition that causes blood sugar to rise. A fasting blood glucose (sugar) level of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher is dangerous.

How Does Diabetes Develop?

When your digestive system breaks down food, your blood sugar level rises. The body’s cells take up the sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream and use it for energy. The cells do this using a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas (an organ near the stomach). When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or doesn’t efficiently use the insulin it produces, sugar levels rise in the bloodstream. As a result, right away, the body’s cells may be starved for energy. Over time, high blood glucose levels may damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Historically, Type 2 diabetes has been diagnosed primarily in adults, but adolescents and young adults are developing Type 2 diabetes at an alarming rate because of higher rates of obesity and physical inactivity.

This type of diabetes can occur when:

  • The body develops ‘insulin resistance’ and can’t efficiently use the insulin it makes.
  • The pancreas gradually loses its capacity to produce insulin.

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet crossing the threshold of a diabetes diagnosis. If you’ve been told by your doctor that you have prediabetes, without making some healthy changes, you have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

What AreThe Non-Modifiable Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes?

Several risk factors increase your risk for developing prediabetes and, ultimately, Type 2 diabetes. Some of these characteristics are non-modifiable, or beyond your control, such as:

  • Family history: If you have a blood relative with diabetes, your risk for developing it is significantly increased. Map out your family history tree and take it to your doctor to find out what your family history may mean for you.
  • Age: The older you are, the higher your risk for diabetes. Generally, Type 2 diabetes occurs in middle-aged adults, most frequently after age 45. However, healthcare providers are diagnosing more and more children and adolescents with Type 2 diabetes.
  • History of gestational diabetes: If you developed diabetes during pregnancy, you are at increased risk.

What Are The Modifiable Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes?

You can — and should — do something about modifiable risk factors. By making healthy changes, you can reduce risk for diabetes or delay its development. The changes can also improve your overall quality of life.

  • Obesity: Being overweight puts you at a higher risk of developing diabetes.
  • Physical inactivity: Along with being overweight, physical inactivity ranks among the top modifiable risk factors for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): In addition to causing damage to the cardiovascular system, untreated high blood pressure has been linked to the development of diabetes.
  • Abnormal cholesterol (lipid) levels: Low HDL “good” cholesterol and/or high triglycerides can increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A healthy eating plan, sufficient aerobic physical activity and a healthy weight can help improve abnormal lipid levels. Sometimes, medications are necessary.

What Are The Symptoms And Diagnosis Involved?

Increased thirst, increased appetite, fatigue, increased urination, blurred vision, sores that don’t heal, weight loss and in some cases, no symptoms at all. If you have any of these symptoms, see your health care provider right away. If your blood glucose levels are normal, you should be tested about every three years. If you have prediabetes, you should be checked for diabetes every one to two years after that diagnosis.

Three types of tests can help healthcare providers make a diagnosis of prediabetes and diabetes:

HbA1C (A1C or glycosylated hemoglobin test)

The A1C test can diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. It measures your average blood glucose control for the past two to three months. This test is more convenient because no fasting is required. An A1C of 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent means that you have prediabetes, and you’re at high risk for the development of diabetes. Diabetes is diagnosed when the A1C is 6.5 percent or higher.

Fasting Plasma Glucose Test (FPG)

A fasting plasma glucose test requires fasting (nothing to eat or drink except water) for eight hours before the test. For this test, the healthcare provider draws blood from the patient. Then the plasma (the fluid part of the blood) is combined with other substances to determine the amount of glucose in the plasma, as measured in mg/dL.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)

This test measures how well the body handles a standard amount of glucose. To conduct this test, your healthcare provider will draw blood before and two hours after you drink a large, premeasured beverage containing glucose. Then, your doctor can compare the before-and-after glucose levels contained in your plasma to see how well your body processed the sugar. These levels are measured in mg/dL.

How Can I Reduce The Progression And Impact Of Diabetes?

Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating healthy and engaging in regular, moderate physical activity may reduce the progression of Type 2 diabetes while minimizing other risk factors such as high blood pressure, blood cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes. In many instances, lifestyle changes must be accompanied by medications to control blood glucose levels, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Becoming a healthier you isn’t as difficult as you might think if you follow these simple tips.


Make healthy food choices, including controlling portion sizes and reading food labels, to maintain the right weight and prevent or manage diabetes. It is important to limit simple carbohydrates that are in foods such as table sugar, cake, soda, candy, and jellies. Consuming them can increase blood glucose. With so many food options, it can be hard to know which ones are healthy. This chart can help you make the best choices.

Include Limit
Fiber-rich whole grains
(such as oatmeal, barley, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole wheat, and corn)
Sweets and added sugars
(such as table sugars sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrups, high-fructose corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice, honey, soda, fruit drinks, candy, cake, and jellies)
Non-fried fish at least twice per week, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids
(such as salmon, lake trout, mackerel and herring)
(Consume less than 300 mg per day)
(without skin)
(Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. An ideal limit is less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.)
Fruits and vegetables
(deeply colored such as spinach, carrots and berries)
Partially hydrogenated or trans fats
(contained in shortening, cakes, cookies, pastries, muffins, doughnuts, and French fries)
Vegetable oils, fat-free or low-fat dairy
(soft/tub or liquid)
Saturated fats
(contained in dairy products such as butter, whole milk, 2 percent milk and cheese, fatty meats and poultry, coconut oil and palm oil, hydrogenated oils, and foods made with these ingredients).
Unsalted nuts, seeds, and legumes
(Women should limit to one drink a day; men to two drinks a day)

Keep a food and blood glucose log. By writing down what you eat, when you eat, and how it affects your glucose levels, you can keep better track of how foods affect your body. Check your blood sugar one hour to one-and-a-half hours after eating to see how your body reacts to various foods.

Regular physical activity

Being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and losing 7 percent of your body weight can lower your risk of developing diabetes by about half. And your risk continues to decrease as you lose even more weight. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, physical activity and weight management can help control the disease and minimize negative health consequences. For good health, healthy adults need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of both.

Quitting smoking

If you have diabetes, smoking can compound your health problems because you’re more likely to get nerve damage and kidney disease, and three times more likely than nonsmokers to die of cardiovascular disease.

Knowing your numbers: Through home monitoring and regular visits with your health care provider, you can keep track of your blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and weight. These critical health numbers provide insight into how well your treatment plan is working to manage your diabetes and safeguard your overall health, including that of your heart.

What Happens If Diabetes Is Left Untreated?

Diabetes can affect many major organs in your body, which can lead to an array of serious complications when left untreated. These medical problems include:

  • Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), heart disease and stroke
  • Renal (kidney) disease
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Vision damage
  • Nerve damage and numbness in the extremities that can lead to amputation

Content source: Heart.org

Consult Dr. Renuka