Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood glucose, commonly called blood sugar. Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It’s also your brain’s main source of fuel.
If you have diabetes, no matter what type, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, although the reasons may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems.
Chronic diabetes conditions include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetes conditions include prediabetes — when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes — and gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy but may resolve after the baby is delivered.
Diabetes symptoms vary depending on how much your blood sugar is elevated. Some people, especially those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, may not experience symptoms initially. In type 1 diabetes, symptoms tend to come on quickly and be more severe. Some of the signs and symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Presence of ketones in the urine (ketones are a byproduct of the breakdown of muscle and fat that happens when there’s not enough insulin)
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- High blood pressure
- Frequent infections, such as gums or skin infections and vaginal or bladder infections
Although type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, it typically appears during childhood or adolescence. Type 2 diabetes, the more common type, can develop at any age and is often preventable.
When to see a doctor
- If you suspect you or your child may have diabetes. If you notice any possible diabetes symptoms, contact your doctor. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.
- If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes. After you receive your diagnosis, you’ll need close medical follow-up until your blood sugar levels stabilize.
Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented. However, the same healthy lifestyle choices that help treat prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes can help prevent them.
- Eat healthy foods. Choose foods low in fat and calories. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Strive for variety to prevent boredom.
- Get more physical activity. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps. If you can’t fit in a long workout, break it up into smaller sessions spread throughout the day.
- Lose excess pounds. If you’re overweight, losing even 5 percent of your body weight — for example, 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) if you weigh 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) — can reduce the risk of diabetes. To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits. Motivate yourself by remembering the benefits of losing weight, such as a healthier heart, more energy and improved self-esteem.
Sometimes medication is an option as well. Oral diabetes drugs such as metformin (Glucophage, Glumetza, others) may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes — but healthy lifestyle choices remain essential.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies:
Diabetes is a serious disease. Following your diabetes treatment plan takes round-the-clock commitment. Careful management of diabetes can reduce your risk of serious — even life-threatening — complications.
No matter what type of diabetes you have:
- Make a commitment to managing your diabetes. Learn all you can about diabetes. Establish a relationship with a diabetes educator, and ask your diabetes treatment team for help when you need it.
- Choose healthy foods and maintain a healthy weight. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight if you’re overweight can make a significant difference in your blood sugar control. A healthy diet is one with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, with a limited amount of saturated fat.
- Make physical activity part of your daily routine. Regular exercise can help prevent prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, and it can help those who already have diabetes to maintain better blood sugar control. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise -such as brisk walking — most days of the week is recommended. A recent study found that a combination of exercises — aerobic exercises, such as walking or dancing on most days, combined with resistance training, such as weightlifting or yoga twice a week — helps control blood sugar more effectively than either type of exercise alone.
Lifestyle for type 1 and type 2 diabetes
In addition, if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes:
- Identify yourself. Wear a tag or bracelet that says you have diabetes. Keep a glucagon kit nearby in case of a low blood sugar emergency — and make sure your friends and loved ones know how to use it.
- Schedule a yearly physical and regular eye exams. Your regular diabetes checkups aren’t meant to replace yearly physicals or routine eye exams. During the physical, your doctor will look for any diabetes-related complications and screen for other medical problems. Your eye care specialist will check for signs of retinal damage, cataracts and glaucoma.
- Keep your immunizations up to date. High blood sugar can weaken your immune system. Get a flu shot every year, and get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years. Your doctor will likely recommend the pneumonia vaccine, as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also currently recommends hepatitis B vaccination if you haven’t previously been vaccinated against hepatitis B and you’re an adult ages 19 to 59 with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The most recent CDC guidelines advise vaccination as soon as possible after diagnosis with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If you are age 60 or older, have diabetes and haven’t previously received the vaccine, talk to your doctor about the whether it’s right for you.
- Pay attention to your feet. Wash your feet daily in lukewarm water. Dry them gently, especially between the toes. Moisturize with lotion, but not between the toes. Check your feet every day for blisters, cuts, sores, redness or swelling. Consult your doctor if you have a sore or other foot problem that doesn’t start to heal on its own.
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly can go a long way toward controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol. Medication may be needed, too.
- Take care of your teeth. Diabetes may leave you prone to gum infections. Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. And if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, schedule dental exams at least once a year. Consult your dentist right away if your gums bleed or look red or swollen.
- If you smoke or use other types of tobacco, ask your doctor to help you quit. Smoking increases your risk of various diabetes complications, including heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and kidney disease. Smokers who have diabetes are more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than are nonsmokers who have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Talk to your doctor about ways to stop smoking or to stop using other types of tobacco.
- If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Alcohol can cause either high or low blood sugar, depending on how much you drink and if you eat at the same time. If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation — one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men — and always with food. Remember to include the carbohydrates from any alcohol you drink in your daily carbohydrate count.
- Take stress seriously. If you’re stressed, it’s easy to abandon your usual diabetes management routine. The hormones your body may produce in response to prolonged stress may prevent insulin from working properly, which only makes matters worse. To take control, set limits. Prioritize your tasks. Learn relaxation techniques. Get plenty of sleep.
Above all, stay positive. The good habits you adopt today can help you enjoy an active, healthy life with diabetes.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Diabetes.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research,
31 Jan. 2013. Web. 17 June 2013.