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Everything You Need to Know About Diabetes

writtenByWritten by: Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Read more posts by this author.

January 7, 2021 Read Time - 8 minutes

What is Diabetes? An Overview of Diabetes Signs, Symptoms and Causes

Diabetes is a long-lasting disease that disrupts how your body turns food into energy. Your body cannot convert glucose (sugar) into energy because of damaged cells called insulin-producing beta cells. 

After you eat, blood sugar is released into your bloodstream. Normally, this triggers a hormone called insulin to be released that takes blood sugar back into your body’s cells for energy. Depending on the type of diabetes you have, insulin may not be made at all by your pancreas, or insufficient amounts may be made.

If you have diabetes, your body does not break down sugar (glucose) appropriately, resulting in high blood sugar levels. 

Diabetes has many forms. Type 1, Type 2,  latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA), and gestational diabetes. Differences exist between all forms of diabetes, but the two most common forms are type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

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What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

Symptoms of diabetes are similar among everyone. 

Some of the symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Frequent urination (polyuria)
  • Increased thirst (polydipsia)
  • Increased appetite, despite eating enough (polyphagia)

These symptoms are often referred to as the three P’s, referring to the medical terminology for each. The three P’s often occur, but not always, together. 

These are signs of diabetes and are considered red flags.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Undiagnosed Diabetes?

People with undiagnosed diabetes often have common symptoms. If you are exhibiting these symptoms there is a good chance that your blood glucose levels may be too high. 

What are the early signs of diabetes?

Early and undiagnosed signs of diabetes include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Weight gain
  • Vision changes
  • Patches of darker skin, especially on the back of the neck, armpit, or groin area
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Cuts and bruises that take longer to heal
  • Blurry vision

If left untreated and undiagnosed, diabetes can cause severe cellular and organ damage, specifically kidney, heart, and brain damage. High blood glucose levels can also damage tiny blood vessels in the eyes. 

It is important to take action at the first signs of diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes affects approximately 5% of adults with the disease and is characterized by the destruction of pancreatic beta cells responsible for producing insulin.

Your body does not make or use any insulin when you have type 1 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetic components, immunologic, and sometimes environmental (viral) factors. It is generally accepted that genetic components are the common underlying factor. 

While people do not inherit type 1 diabetes, it is seen as a genetic predisposition or tendency.

Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood between the ages of 4 and 14, and almost always before age 40. 

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 18,200 people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes every year.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 95% of adults with the disease. 

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion. Insulin resistance refers to the body’s decreased sensitivity to insulin and therefore insulin is less effective at lowing blood sugar with type 2 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes occurs more commonly among people older than 30 years old and who are obese. 

Inheritance of type 2 diabetes is unclear, but the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is increased if it has also affected a close family member such as a parent or sibling. 

It is important to note that type 2 diabetes is also seen in children, adolescents, and young adults with a correlating factor of obesity. 

According to ADA, 5,800 children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every year.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Diabetic Diet, What to Eat When You Have Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, there are some key takeaways related to a diabetic diet. 

The following are guidelines for diabetics relating to diet:

  • Talk to your doctor and get a referral to a registered dietician (RDN) who can help you make eating plans
  • Know that you have choices – Mediterranean, low-carbohydrate, and vegetarian options.
  • Include lots of non-starchy vegetables in your diet
  • Minimize added sugars and refined grains
  • Choose whole, minimally processed foods
  • Know the balance of macronutrients that work for you
  • There is no one definition for “low-carb” but generally, 26-45% of total calories should be from carbohydrate sources

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes caused by pregnancy in women. 

According to the ADA, 10% of pregnancies in the US are affected by gestational diabetes. Similar to other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use glucose (sugar). 

Usually, once the woman is no longer pregnant, beta cells and insulin sensitivities return to normal. 

However, according to the CDC, about 50% of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within the next 10 years.

What Causes Diabetes?

The main cause of diabetes is linked to damaged beta cells in the pancreas done either by genetic disposition or environmental factors.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by: 

  • Genetic components
  • Immunologic factors
  • Environmental (viral) factors

It is generally accepted that genetic components are the common underlying factor. 

Type 2 diabetes can develop over the course of several years and can be mild. Type 2 diabetes is caused by:

  • Lack of insulin absorption
  • Being overweight (20% over projected healthy weight) 
  • Lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle)
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Family history

Inheritance of type 2 diabetes is unclear, but the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is increased if it has also affected a close family member such as a parent or sibling. 

What is a Diabetic Attack and What Does a Diabetic Attack Feel Like?

A diabetic attack can come on suddenly and is caused by an imbalance in blood glucose levels, either too high or too low. 

Too low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) levels can be extremely dangerous for those diagnosed with diabetes. 

It is important to know the symptoms of a diabetic attack so that you can take action immediately before it gets to fatal levels. 

Signs and symptoms of low blood glucose include:

  • Cool, clammy skin
  • New-onset confusion
  • Nausea
  • Feeling shaky
  • Feeling nervous or anxious
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Feeling irritable
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling hungry

Top Diabetes Treatments

It is important to effectively treat diabetes as soon as possible. This may include taking tablets or injecting insulin

Treatment includes frequent doctor’s visits as well as taking the right medications. 

Treatment is based upon your A1C level. The American Diabetes Association recommends that A1C levels remain at or below 7%. 

Both tablets and injectable insulin are used to treat diabetes. Some patients may be treated with just tablets, others with insulin, and some use a combination of both. 

Insulin injections specifically, long-acting, and fast-acting, injectables are common treatment plans. Some patients must inject insulin into their body several times a day. 

Common insulin treatments include:

  • Novolin 70/30
  • Humalog
  • Aspart
  • Regular
  • NPH
  • Lantus

Top Diabetes Medications

There are many categories of diabetic medications available in the US. The most common types of diabetic medications include:

  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors
  • Biguanides (which includes Metformin)
  • Dopamine agonist
  • Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitor (DPP-4)
  • Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist (GLP-1 receptor agonists)
  • Meglitinides
  • Sodium-glucose transporter 2 inhibitors (SGLT)
  • Sulfonylureas
  • Thiazolidinediones

Metformin is a common diabetic medication taken in pill form. Metformin is used to treat type 2 diabetes and works by improving insulin sensitivity within the body. 

Common diabetes medications that PlushCare’s online doctors prescribe are: 

  • Metformin
  • Diabeta
  • Lantus
  • Humalog
  • Novolin R
  • Novolin N
  • Jardiance
  • Glimepiride
  • Aprida
  • Glyxambi
  • Levemir 
  • And many more…
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Get Diabetes Treatment Online

Did you know an online doctor can diagnose and treat diabetes? Online doctors can order diabetes diagnostic testing and provide a treatment plan upon diagnosis. 

You can book an appointment with a top PlushCare provider to talk about your diagnosis and care plan. 

If you have signs and symptoms of diabetes or have already been diagnosed with diabetes, an online doctor at PlushCare can help you with diabetes management. 

Online appointments are just as effective as in-person visits for diabetes management and will save you time. 

Book an appointment for diabetes treatment

Read More About Diabetes

References:

American Diabetes Association. 2020. Type 1 diabetes. Accessed on December 24, 2020 at https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/type-1 

American Diabetes Association. 2020. Type 2 diabetes. Accessed on December 24, 2020 at https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/type-2 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Diabetes. Accessed on December 24, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/index.html

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). National diabetes statistics report, 2020. Accessed on December 24, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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