Diabetes is one of the most important chronic health problems of modern life. The number of people with diabetes is on the rise. Diabetes affects people’s health in several ways. For instance, diabetes increases the costs and prolongs the length of stay in about one quarter of all hospital admissions in the U.S., from any cause. For reasons like this, diabetes has become the most expense chronic illness in the country.

Diabetes is a disease that results when your body either does not make enough insulin or does not use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas to turn the food you eat (especially the sugars and starches) into the energy you need each day.

When everything is working right, here is what is supposed to happen:

  • You eat, and the food is converted into sugar.
  • Sugar levels in your blood start to rise.
  • This signals your pancreas to provide insulin.
  • Insulin "unlocks" cells throughout your body to let the sugar in.
  • Your cells use this sugar for energy.

When you have type 2 diabetes, your cells can't use insulin properly. This is called being insulin resistant. In addition, many people with type 2 diabetes make less insulin than the body needs.

One key aspect of treating type 2 diabetes is to make your cells more sensitive to insulin.

Glucose levels in your blood

The sugar in your blood is called glucose. Insulin and glucose are partners -- both are necessary for your body to function. When insulin lets enough sugar into your cells to provide fuel for your body, the level of sugar in your blood stays safe.

If you have untreated diabetes, your cells may be starving for energy while the glucose in your blood begins to rise. The glucose can reach very high levels. Over time, high glucose levels may damage many different organs in your body. Thus, poorly controlled diabetes can lead to serious long-term health problems, including:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye complications
  • Nerve damage
  • Foot complications

Controlling diabetes

The good news is that your diabetes can be controlled, and long-term complications can be prevented or minimized. To do so, you need to learn how to keep your blood glucose levels in the safest range possible. This is accomplished through good nutrition, exercise, and weight loss. Sometimes you'll need diabetes medicine as well. And it is wise to incorporate psychological and social support into your plan from the beginning -- rather than waiting for a specific problem. Managing diabetes involves making last changes in long-standing habits. You’ll want all the support to do this that you can get.

Getting the facts will help you take charge. Don't worry about learning everything at once! In time you will become an expert -- you will learn more as you go along.

 

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Review Date: 5/1/2006

Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.


The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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