There are several types of diabetes:
This article's focus is on learning about Type 2 diabetes.
Modern lifestyles are often times extremely busy and stressful. Long hours can lead us to reach for solutions that make our lives easier or more convenient, but that aren't necessarily the healthiest choices. How many people can say that they've never grabbed a fast food meal rather than prepare a nutritious and balanced meal at home? Or never skipped a workout because they were tired after a long day at work?
Unfortunately, a diet that's high in fat, calories, and refined or processed carbohydrates can easily lead to weight gain. Throw in a sedentary lifestyle and the weight will pack on even faster. Being overweight is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes (although it's only one of many things that can lead to, or causes type 2 diabetes). Insulin resistance is the first warning sign that you may be on the road to developing diabetes. Once your body is less sensitive to the effects of insulin, it has to keep trying to produce more and more of it to get the same response.
Insulin is a hormone that acts as a "key" to move blood glucose into your body's cells, which burns it for fuel. Once your body becomes resistant to insulin, not enough glucose gets into the cells. This has the dual effect of "starving" your cells for energy, as well as increasing the amount of glucose in your bloodstream.
Our bodies just aren't meant to deal with continued high levels of blood glucose. Early warning signs of diabetes can alert you that you should be tested. Your doctor can discuss your risk factors for getting diabetes, any symptoms you've been showing, your personal medical history, and any history of diabetes in your family.
There are several types of diabetes tests. Doctors can vary in which type of test they prefer, and sometimes more than one test is required. Blood glucose tests should be repeated on a separate occasion if a diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes results. This is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
The test most often used is a simple fasting blood glucose test. You fast for a minimum of 8 hours (some doctors recommend up to 12 hours), a blood sample is drawn, and the amount of blood glucose is measured. In people without diabetes, a normal blood glucose range is from 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) to 100 mg/dL. You're considered pre-diabetic if your blood glucose is between 101 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL, and diabetic if it's 126 mg/dL or higher. (see: Conversion Chart for Blood Sugar Levels to convert to mmol/L)
The other type of test your doctor may have you take is the oral glucose tolerance test. Essentially, you're given a sugary drink to consume. Your blood glucose levels are tested after 1 and 2 hours. If your 2-hour test shows a blood glucose reading of 200 mg/dL or higher (11.1 mmol/L or higher), you are considered diabetic. This is also true if any random test of your blood glucose reads 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or higher.
Finally, there is the A1C test (also called HbA1c, or hemoglobin A1C test). This test measures average blood glucose readings over a period of about 3 months. Depending on where you live, this test may or may not be considered a diagnostic tool for type 2 diabetes. However, it does give useful information about how well your blood sugar levels are managed day-to-day. A normal A1C reading is less than 5.7; a pre-diabetic A1C reading is 5.7 to 6.4; and a diabetic reading is 6.5 or higher.
Sometimes people who suspect that they might have type 2 diabetes will avoid getting tested out of fear that their suspicions might be right (or they'll try to "beat" a diabetes test). In fact, many people have undiagnosed diabetes. However, if you are at risk you should be tested: untreated diabetes means continued high blood glucose levels, and that can lead to serious diabetes-related complications. Foot problems, eye problems (including blindness), dry/itchy skin, dental disease, nerve damage, and kidney and heart disease are just some of the health problems that can result from untreated or poorly controlled diabetes.
A diabetes treatment plan for type 2 diabetics consists of dietary changes, weight loss, and regular exercise. For people who are unable to keep blood glucose levels under control with these measures, oral medication or insulin may also be required. Each of us is different - what works for one person may not work for another, so working together with your doctor and/or diabetes educator is important.
Regular testing of blood sugar is also critical to ensuring that your blood sugar levels are where they should be. Generally, blood tests are repeated every 3 months. These tests should be run in addition to regular home testing using a glucometer.
It's estimated that millions of people live with undiagnosed diabetes. If your doctor doesn't bring up testing for diabetes, but you have a strong family history of diabetes, or you believe you are showing possible symptoms, insist on being tested. You need to be the strongest advocate for your own health. Diabetes is a lifelong condition that can result in serious health complications.
Learning about diabetes can help individuals assess their own risk and determine whether they need to talk to their doctor. In some cases, lifestyle intervention can prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes.