Diabetes - What you need to know

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which your body is unable to produce insulin or properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Diabetes leads to high blood glucose levels, which can damage other parts of your body (e.g. organs, blood vessels, nerves). Your body needs insulin to use glucose as an energy source.

How many types of diabetes are there?

There are three main forms of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gestational diabetes

What is type 1 diabetes?  

Type 1 diabetes occurs when there is little or no insulin being produced. This form of diabetes is usually diagnosed in people under age 30, appears suddenly, and most often with symptoms of high blood glucose. Treatment involves meal planning, physical activity and often medication. Medication for type 1 diabetes always involves the use of insulin.

What is type 2 diabetes?

This is the most common type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot properly use the insulin that is released. It is usually diagnosed in people over age 30, develops slowly with or without symptoms. In addition to meal planning and physical activity, management of type 2 diabetes may involve oral medications, insulin injections or a combination of both.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. It affects about 3 to 12 per cent of pregnant women. All women should be screened for gestational diabetes between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, or earlier if there are risk factors (Diabetes Canada). 

What are the recommended blood glucose (sugar) levels?

Before meals:  4-7 mmol/L
After meals (1-2 hours):  5-10 mmol/L

What are the warning signs that I may be experiencing high blood glucose?

There are many symptoms of high blood glucose (or high blood sugar) which can include:

  • drowsiness;
  • blurry vision;
  • excessive thirst;
  • fatigue;
  • frequent urination;
  • itchy skin;
  • slow healing of cuts or skin infections; and/or
  • numbness or tingling in the extremities (usually the hands and feet).

If you are experiencing these symptoms, please contact your family physician / nurse practitioner.

Do other members of your family have diabetes?

There is an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in families with a history of diabetes.
Average Canadian:  1 in 9 chance
One parent diagnosed (before age 50):  1 in 7 chance
Both mother and father:  1 in 2 chance

Are you overweight?

About 80 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Extra body weight makes it harder for your pancreas to do its job.

How old are you?

The risk of getting type 2 diabetes increases with age. There is a higher risk over the age of 40.

Have you given birth to a baby weighing over 9lbs (4kg)?

Having a large baby may be a risk factor for you getting type 2 diabetes later in life.

How can I live healthy with diabetes?

To live a healthy life with diabetes, you should:

  • eat a balanced meal;
  • be physically active;
  • check your blood glucose levels often and keep your readings close to the recommended ranges;
  • not smoke;
  • take your medications;
  • check your feet everyday; and
  • brush and floss your teeth and gums daily.
  • have your eyes examined by an eye care professional, usually every 1-2 years

How should I prepare for a medical procedure or test when I have diabetes?

Each doctor or surgeon may have their own protocol for you to follow when preparing for a test or procedure. However, the following are some suggestions that may help make the test or procedure easier to manage:

  • When you receive notification for the date of your procedure, contact your doctor’s office and/or hospital staff to let them know you have diabetes and what medications you are taking. Ensure you contact them well in advance of your procedure.
  • Ask what foods or fluids should be taken or avoided in the days prior to, the day of, and the days following your test.
  • Ask what your medication and/or insulin doses should be prior to, on the day of, and following your procedure.
  • Monitor your blood glucose more frequently before and after your test. Contact your doctor if you have any concerns about your blood glucose levels (being too high or too low).
  • If you are not to eat anything prior to your test and your blood glucose is less than 4.0 mmol/L, you must treat your low. Treat with 6 oz of apple juice or 6 oz of regular ginger ale and contact hospital staff immediately for further instructions.

What does A1C mean?

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, a glycosolated hemoglobin (A1C) blood test can tell you how well you are managing your diabetes. The A1C is your average blood glucose levels over approximately three months. A reasonable goal would be to keep your blood glucose at the following levels:

Before meals:  4-7 mmol/L
After meals (1-2 hours):  5-10 mmol/L

Blood glucose levels in this range equal an A1C test result of under 7 per cent.

Studies have shown by keeping your A1C under 7 per cent you decrease your risk of long-term complications (eye disease, kidney disease, heart problems) related to diabetes. The A1C teaching tool chart explains the comparison between your A1C value and your blood glucose levels.

Published date: 
June 30, 2021
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