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Diabetes mellitus, often just called “diabetes,” is an endocrine disorder that results in high blood glucose levels. Diabetes affects how the body produces or uses the hormone insulin, which is responsible for managing glucose in the body’s cells. While diabetes was once a fatal disease, modern treatments allow people with diabetes to live long, healthy, mostly normal lives.
How does someone know if they might have diabetes? While diabetes can only be diagnosed by a medical provider, these symptoms can indicate that you are affected:
- Abnormal hunger
- Increased thirst
- Urinating often
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurry vision
- Poor wound healing
- Frequent skin infections or UTIs
- Itching or burning hands and feet
Your doctor will use tests to diagnose your diabetes. These include the fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) and the A1C test. To test your fasting plasma glucose, the doctor will ask you to avoid eating or drinking for at least 8 hours before testing. A blood sample will be drawn and used to measure your blood glucose level. A fasting blood sugar should ideally be less than 100 mg/dL.
The doctor will also test your A1C, which is a measurement of your average blood sugar over a 3-month period. By measuring the amount of a particular type of hemoglobin in the blood, your doctor can determine your average blood sugar. This test is more important in diagnosing and managing diabetes than random blood glucose tests, as this test indicates the overall trends in your blood sugar over time.
Types of Diabetes
While diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder in the United States, there is often confusion about the different types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most common, affecting approximately 90% of people with diabetes. Type 1 is much rarer, with only 8% of people with diabetes diagnosed with Type 1. Additionally, some women suffer from gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes experienced during pregnancy.
Type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed at any time throughout life but often develops well into adulthood. Type 2 diabetes has complicated causes but is associated with genetics, age, and weight. You can lower your risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes by staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and consuming a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as “juvenile” diabetes because it is more prevalent in children and young adults. Type 1 diabetes is caused by a failure of the pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes can also be caused by a variety of factors, such as autoimmune disorder, pancreatic injury, and genetics. While type 2 diabetes can often be treated without insulin, people with type 1 diabetes rely on artificial insulin to maintain normal blood glucose.
Gestational diabetes occurs only in pregnant women. Hormones secreted by the placenta can increase insulin resistance in some women. While gestational diabetes often resolves after delivery, it is still a serious condition. Gestational diabetes affects the mother and developing fetus and can cause severe complications during and after delivery. Additionally, developing gestational diabetes is a risk factor that increases the likelihood of the mother developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Diabetes treatment is often managed by a team of providers, including your primary care physician, an endocrinologist, and nurses. These healthcare professionals can assess lab values and your overall health to provide the best treatment plan for you. Doctors may prescribe several different types of insulin for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. People with Type 2 diabetes may also be prescribed a variety of oral medications to help manage blood glucose levels. In many cases, oral medications alone are sufficient for managing Type 2 diabetes.
Regardless of what type of diabetes you are diagnosed with, your healthcare team will likely recommend changes in diet and activity level to help you manage your blood sugar. While many providers recommend the Diabetes Plate method, diabetes can be effectively managed on a variety of diets (as we’ve discussed here). An active lifestyle is also possible for people with diabetes and will yield lifelong health benefits.
Some patients may receive a prescription for a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). These devices are used to monitor blood glucose levels throughout the day. They are particularly important for people at risk of hypoglycemia, a potentially fatal drop in blood glucose levels. Devices like the Freestyle Libre or Dexcom G6 are fastened with an adhesive patch to the back of the arm. The device then measures blood glucose levels at regular intervals and transmits the information to a display or smartphone. This allows patients to have up-to-date blood sugars before, during, and after meals.
Diabetes mellitus is a common disorder that is manageable with medication and lifestyle. While diagnosis can often feel overwhelming, Skin Grip believes that people with diabetes can feel empowered, healthy, and active. That’s why we make products designed to help people with diabetes sleep at night. Skin Grip isn’t just tape for diabetic sensors; it’s peace of mind.