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Basics of Diabetes

Content by: Jamie Rinaldi, RD, MS in Applied Physiology & Nutrition

Diabetes mellitus, simply referred to as "diabetes", has become an epidemic, affecting about twenty-one million Americans, according to the American Diabetes Association. Unfortunately, more than 30% of that twenty-one million are undiagnosed. In addition to regular physical exams, knowing the signs and symptoms of diabetes can significantly improve diagnosis rates and treatment to prevent long-term complications.

Basics of Diabetes





Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot produce enough insulin or is unable to utilize it effectively, termed "insulin resistance".

Insulin allows the body to use glucose (AKA blood sugar) for energy or to store it for later use. In absence of adequate insulin, or insulin resistance, glucose levels build up to higher than normal levels in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia. Common symptoms include frequent urination, increased thirst, and blurred vision. Over time, this excess of sugar in the blood can lead to a multitude of chronic health conditions, such as blindness, nerve damage, unintended weight loss, and kidney failure.

Hypoglycemia is defined as lower than normal blood glucose levels. Causes of hypoglycemia are inadequate carbohydrate intake combined with blood glucose-lowering medication or insulin treatment, excessive exercise, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The most prevalent symptoms are shakiness, irritability, hunger, anxiety, and sweating. Severe hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, comas, and in rare cases, death.

Diabetes can be diagnosed with simple blood testing. The physician will check the hemoglobin A1C, which measures glycemic control over the past 3 months, or fasting blood sugars. Another test, less frequently used, is the oral glucose tolerance test. For this test, the individual fasts for 8 hours, then drinks a beverage loaded with sugar. Two hours later, the blood glucose level is read.

Once a diagnosis of diabetes is made, it is vital that the physician’s treatment plan is followed to prevent aforementioned symptoms and complications of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.

Did you know?

In many cases, diabetes can be managed with diet alone. Ask your doctor!

Next Steps:

1. Maintain a healthy weight.
2. Follow a healthful diet, containing a balance of high fiber fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, dairy products, and healthy fats.
3. Check blood sugar regularly and keep a log to identify any patterns, e.g. a time of day when it is typically abnormal or in relation to what food has been consumed.
4. Exercise regularly!
5. Take medications as prescribed.
6. Avoid sugar-laden beverages such as soda and fruit punch. Drink water instead!
7. Make an appointment with a Diabetes Professional to get individualized recommendations.

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