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What is Diabetes?

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas does not produce any insulin. Insulin is an important hormone that helps your body to control the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin injected into the body, and a healthy lifestyle.

The cause of type 1 diabetes remains unknown. It's not caused by eating too much sugar and is not preventable. Researchers believe that that type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the cells that make insulin.

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can develop quickly. Most people with type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in childhood and early adulthood, but it can appear at any age.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is caused by several different risk factors. Some of these factors can be controlled or managed (like high blood pressure or smoking) while other factors (like having a higher-risk ethnic background) can't be controlled.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the body cannot make enough insulin, or the body does not properly use the insulin it makes. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to control the level of sugar in the blood.

As a result, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being used for energy. If left unmanaged, excess sugar in the blood can eventually cause problems and lead to serious health complications.

Many people don’t present any symptoms, which means some people can live with type 2 diabetes for many years without knowing it.

 

Signs & Symptoms

Low Blood Sugar

A person may have these symptoms when their blood sugar has dropped below 4.0 millimoles per litre (mmol/L). When someone has had diabetes for many years, they may not always develop symptoms of mild low blood sugar.

Some young children with diabetes cannot recognize symptoms of low blood sugar, but sometimes others can. To be safe, a blood sugar test should be performed whenever low blood sugar is suspected in a child.

Symptoms may include:

  • Sweating (almost always present). Check for sweating on the back of the neck at their hairline.
  • Nervousness, shakiness, and weakness.
  • Extreme hunger and slight nausea.
  • Dizziness and headache.
  • Blurred vision.
  • A fast heartbeat and feeling anxious.

These symptoms may go away shortly after eating food that contains sugar.

Symptoms of moderate low blood sugar

If ones' blood sugar continues to drop, their behaviour may change. Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Confusion and irritability.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Unsteadiness when standing or walking.
  • Muscle twitching.
  • Personality changes, such as anger or crying.

Symptoms of severe low blood sugar

Symptoms of severe low blood sugar include:

  • Seizure.
  • Loss of consciousness (coma).
  • Stroke.
  • Death.

High Blood Sugar

High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) is most often seen in people who have diabetes that isn't well controlled. The symptoms of high blood sugar can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Mildly high blood sugar

If a person's blood sugar levels are consistently higher than their target range, they may have mild symptoms of high blood sugar. They may urinate more than usual if they consume plenty of liquids. Some people who have diabetes may not notice any symptoms when their blood sugar level is in this range. The main symptoms of high blood sugar are:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Increased urination.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Increased appetite.

Young children are unable to recognize symptoms of high blood sugar. If they don't drink enough liquids to replace the fluids lost from high blood sugar levels, they can become dehydrated. Young children can become dehydrated very quickly. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • A dry mouth and increased thirst.
  • Warm, dry skin.

Moderate to severe high blood sugar

Moderate to severe symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Extreme thirst.
  • Light-headedness.
  • Flushed, hot, dry skin.
  • Restlessness, drowsiness, or difficulty waking up.

If a person's body produces little or no insulin (people with type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes), they also may have:

  • Rapid, deep breathing.
  • A fast heart rate and a weak pulse.
  • A strong, fruity breath odour.
  • Loss of appetite, belly pain, and/or vomiting.

If their blood sugar levels continue to rise, they may become confused and lethargic. Loss of consciousness is also possible when blood sugar levels are very high.

 

First-Aid for Diabetes

Low Blood Sugar

If low blood sugar is suspected, remember the "rule of 15":

  • Check blood sugar is a meter is available. If below 4.0 millimoles per litre (mmol/L), consume 15 g of glucose, sucrose tablets, or 'fast sugars' (fruit juice, etc).
  • Wait 15 minutes.
  • If blood sugar is still below 4.0 millimoles per litre (mmol/L), consume 15 g of glucose, sucrose tablets, or 'fast sugars'.
  • Continue with 15 g every 15 minutes until blood sugar returns to a safe target range (4.0 millimoles per litre (mmol/L) or higher.
  • If blood sugar does not increase, or remains below 4.0 millimoles per litre (mmol/L) and the person is becoming sleepy or less alert, get immediate emergency medical assistance.

High Blood Sugar

If high blood sugar is suspected:

  • Administer missed medication, if applicable.
  • If symptoms become more noticeable or blood sugar level continues to rise and the person begins to feel drowsy or loses consciousness, get immediate emergency medical assistance.

 

Prevention of Diabetes

Though diabetes can't necessarily be prevented, there are many things a person with diabetes can do to minimize the onset of a diabetic episode.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes can be managed by:

  • taking insulin as recommended (and other medications, if prescribed by your doctor)
  • monitoring your blood sugar levels regularly using a home blood glucose meter
  • eating healthy meals and snacks
  • enjoying regular physical activity
  • aiming for a healthy body weight
  • managing your stress effectively

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes can be managed by:

  • eating healthy meals and snacks
  • enjoying regular physical activity
  • monitoring your blood sugar with a home blood glucose meter
  • aiming for a healthy body weight
  • taking diabetes medications including insulin, if prescribed by your doctor
  • managing stress effectively

Adapted from:
Diabetes Canada.

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