Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the body has trouble using the sugar it gets from food for energy. Sugar builds up in the bloodstream. High blood sugar can have immediate effects, like blurry vision. It can also cause problems over time, like heart disease and blindness.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes (once called juvenile-onset diabetes) and type 2 diabetes (once called adult-onset diabetes). Both are caused by problems making or using insulin, a hormone that makes it possible for cells to use glucose, also known as blood sugar, for energy.

When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose. It also produces a hormone called insulin that signals the body's cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't make enough insulin, or stops making it altogether. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body's cells don't respond to insulin. Either way, since sugar can't get into cells, it builds up in the bloodstream. 

Too much sugar in the blood can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms. These include:

  • blurry vision
  • intense thirst
  • need to urinate often
  • fatigue
  • numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Type 1 diabetes often comes on suddenly. It usually strikes children and teenagers, but can appear later in life. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning it happens because the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the body's insulin-making cells. Type 1 diabetes can't be cured, but it can be managed by taking insulin before eating.

Type 2 diabetes takes longer to develop. It can begin any time from childhood onward. Type 2 diabetes is usually triggered by being overweight or obese and not getting much physical activity. Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes weight loss if needed, daily exercise, a healthy diet, and medications.

Diabetes Articles

Getting to the heart of kidney disease

Heart disease and kidney failure are linked by two powerful underlying risk factors: diabetes and high blood pressure, each of which damages the heart and kidneys independently. Underlying the connection is a breakdown in metabolic signaling that affects blood sugar, blood pressure, sodium levels, and fat storage. Both environmental and genetic forces are probably involved in creating the malfunction. Keeping blood pressure and blood sugar levels in an acceptable range can help preserve heart health and kidney function. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Why does diabetes raise heart disease risk?

People with diabetes face a high risk of heart disease in part because they’re more likely to have other conditions linked to heart disease. But the high blood sugar levels characteristic of diabetes may also harm blood vessels and increase risk of blood clots. (Locked) More »

New concerns about diet sodas

There are growing doubts about whether diet sodas help people lose weight and avoid diabetes. Research has shown that sugar-free sodas may be linked to the development of metabolic syndrome—a condition that often precedes or accompanies diabetes. Many artificial sweeteners may actually increase the brain’s desire for sugar. Even the soda container may pose problems. Many cans are lined with a substance called bisphenol A (BPA). Research has shown that people with higher levels of BPA in their body are more likely to have high blood pressure and heart trouble. (Locked) More »

Blood sugar on the brain

Years of poorly controlled diabetes have a devastating effect on the cardiovascular system, kidneys, and brain. High blood sugar may also harm thinking and memory power even in people who do not have diabetes. In a group of men with cardiovascular disease or risk factors, higher-than-normal blood sugar was linked to all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. (Locked) More »

Glycemic index for 60+ foods

The glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. Foods low on the glycemic index (GI) scale tend to release glucose slowly and steadily. Foods high on the glycemic index release glucose rapidly. Low GI foods tend to foster weight loss, while foods high on the GI scale help with energy recovery after exercise, or to offset hypo- (or insufficient) glycemia. Long-distance runners would tend to favor foods high on the glycemic index, while people with pre- or full-blown diabetes would need to concentrate on low GI foods. Why? People with type 1 diabetes can't produce sufficient quantities of insulin and those with type 2 diabetes are resistant to insulin. With both types of diabetes, faster glucose release from high GI foods leads to spikes in blood sugar levels. The slow and steady release of glucose in low-glycemic foods helps maintain good glucose control. To help you understand how the foods you are eating might impact your blood glucose level, here is an abbreviated chart of the glycemic index for more than 60 common foods. A more complete glycemic index chart can be found in the link below. More »

How often should you get your blood sugar checked?

People who have diabetes risk factors should get their blood sugar checked. If it’s normal, they should get it checked again in three years. If it’s not normal, they should get it checked yearly. Risk factors include being older than 45, being overweight (with a body mass index of 25 or higher), a sedentary lifestyle, a family history of type 2 diabetes, a history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or a heritage that is African American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian American. (Locked) More »