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Chronic Conditions

Diabetes

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

During digestion the starches and sugars in the food you eat are converted to glucose, a sugar that your body uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps control the amount of glucose in blood. Without insulin, your body cannot use or store glucose, so too much sugar stays in your blood. Over a long period of time, high blood sugar levels may damage blood vessels and nerves, increasing your risk for problems that can affect the eyes, heart, kidneys, legs, and feet.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas makes little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or adolescence but can develop at any age. People with type 1 diabetes must give themselves insulin shots every day.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to meet the body's needs or when the body does not use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes often develops in adults, especially those who are overweight and over age 40. Many people with type 2 diabetes are able to control their blood sugar through weight control, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. Some may need insulin shots or oral medications to lower their blood sugar.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

The symptoms of diabetes are vague. A person may believe that his or her symptoms are due to an illness or to aging, not diabetes. Symptoms include:

Your doctor needs to do a blood test to accurately diagnose diabetes.

Prevention

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At this time, there is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes.

The risk for developing type 2 diabetes runs in families. However, even if you have a history of type 2 diabetes in your family, you may be able to delay or prevent its onset by maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising regularly.

Home Treatment

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  • If insulin or other medications are prescribed to control your blood sugar, take them as directed. If you improve your diet and exercise regularly, you may need less medicine. Check with your doctor before making any changes in your medication.

  • Eat a healthy diet to help keep your blood sugar in control and maintain a healthy weight. Pay special attention to eating low-fat foods and to the other diet recommendations in Nutrition.

  • Get regular aerobic exercise to help regulate your blood sugar level, reduce your risk for heart disease, and control your weight. Work closely with your doctor to determine how your activity level affects your blood glucose levels and medication needs.

  • It may help you to keep your blood sugar level within the safe range if you track the following daily:

    • The time and content of each meal you eat.

    • The kind and amount of exercise you get.

    • How tired or energetic you feel.

    • If you have a home glucose monitor, check and record your blood sugar level as often as directed by your doctor. This record will help you understand how your body reacts to different foods and exercise, so you can keep your blood sugar level in the safe range.

  • Take good care of your feet. Diabetes may damage nerves and reduce blood flow to your feet, increasing your risk for infection. Take care to avoid cuts and sores, and promptly treat any injuries to your feet.

  • Get regular eye exams. Eye changes caused by diabetes often have no symptoms until they are quite advanced. Diabetic retinopathy is one form of diabetic eye disease that can cause blindness. Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy may slow its progress and save your sight.

  • Have your doctor check your kidney function. Diabetes can damage your kidneys, but medication may reduce this damage.

  • Have regular medical checkups. Talk to your doctor about how often you need them.

Believe that you can control diabetes. Controlling diabetes requires making significant, long-term lifestyle changes that may seem overwhelming at first. However, if you adopt a "take charge" attitude about your health and focus on making one change at a time, you are more likely to be successful.

Your local branch of the Canadian Diabetes Association is a good resource for more information about diabetes.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or seek emergency services if a person with diabetes is losing consciousness or becomes unconscious and you cannot tell if the person's blood sugar is too low or too high.

Call your health professional:

  • If signs of high blood sugar develop in a person who has diabetes:

    • Frequent urination

    • Intense thirst

    • Blurry vision

    • Weakness, drowsiness

    • Fast, shallow breathing

    • Fruity-smelling breath

  • If signs of low blood sugar last longer than 15 minutes after a person who has diabetes has eaten something that contains sugar:

    • Sweating

    • Fatigue, weakness, nausea

    • Extreme hunger

    • Blurry vision

    • Dizziness, headache

    • Rapid heartbeat, anxiousness

    • Confusion, irritability, slurred speech

  • If your blood sugar level continues to fall outside the range your doctor has recommended.

  • If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and are sick and need advice.

  • To get a blood sugar test if you suspect that you have diabetes but have not yet been diagnosed.

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