What is diabetes?
Diabetes is defined by high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. It may be that the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone involved in turning food into glucose, which the body uses for energy. Or perhaps the body isn't using insulin as well as it should.
Either way, the result is too much sugar in the blood. And large amounts of blood sugar can harm organs and lead to serious problems.
Am I at risk?
You may be at risk if you:
- Are 45 or older
- Have a parent with diabetes
- Have a brother or sister with diabetes
- Are overweight or obese
- Have high blood pressure
- Have a blood glucose level that is higher than normal
- Are not very active
Can I lower my risk?
Want to know two of the best ways to lower your risk of getting diabetes? Eat healthy and be active. In fact, diet and exercise have been shown to work better than drugs in helping delay diabetes.
Losing a few extra pounds (if you're overweight) can also help. Research shows that if you do 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week and lose 7 percent of your body weight — that's 14 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds — you can greatly reduce your risk of getting diabetes.
So take a few minutes here; lose a few pounds there. These small steps can add up to create a big reward: a life without diabetes.
Sources: American Diabetes Association, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, American Association of Diabetes Educators, National Diabetes Education Program
Types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes
Once called juvenile diabetes, type 1 usually begins in childhood or young adulthood. It occurs when the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin or makes no insulin at all. That's why people with type 1 need to regularly take insulin, often with daily injections. Only about 5 percent of adults diagnosed with diabetes have type 1.
Type 2 diabetes
This is the most common type of diabetes. About 90 to 95 percent of adults diagnosed with diabetes have type 2. It was once called adult-onset diabetes, but it's being found in children more and more. Type 2 occurs when the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use it properly. Genetics, diet and inactivity are all probable causes. Medicines and sometimes insulin are needed to treat it.
Some women who've never had diabetes develop it during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually goes away once the baby is born. But it increases the mother's risk for future type 2 diabetes. If the mother is not treated, it also increases the baby's risk.
Prediabetes: Why you shouldn't ignore it
Weathermen can often warn us of bad weather. Doctors can often do the same with our health. They can warn us when we're at risk for a serious disease. One example is prediabetes.
If you've been diagnosed with prediabetes, it means you have a blood glucose (sugar) level that is getting into a dangerous area. It isn't high enough yet to be called type 2 diabetes, but it is abnormally high. The condition is basically a warning that screams, "Pay attention! Danger ahead!" That's because your risk of developing full-blown diabetes is higher.
But here's the good news: If you act now, you can slow this trip toward diabetes. You may even be able to stop it altogether.
Help your teen with diabetes
The teen years can be tough. It can be even harder for a teen who also has to deal with diabetes.
To start with, testing and tracking blood sugar levels is an ongoing challenge. And diabetes adds to teen issues like self-esteem, dating and even learning to drive a car.
Help your teen face these challenges with confidence. Here's how to start.
Find power in knowledge.
Your teen needs to know all the ins and outs of diabetes management. That way, he or she will be able to cope with just about anything that comes up, from an impromptu pizza party to an extra-long tennis session.
Be sure your teen has the chance to talk to a doctor, nurse or other diabetes expert.
Work as a team to ensure that your teen has all the information needed to manage and thrive.
Keep expectations real.
No one always has perfect blood sugar levels. Everything from stress to hormones can throw your teen's levels out of whack.
Applaud your teen for tracking those numbers.
Remember, the aim is an overall pattern of blood sugar control.
Talk about teen stuff.
These years bring some unique concerns. For instance, people with diabetes need to check their blood sugar levels before driving. Does your teen understand the importance of doing that? And will your teen tell friends about his or her condition or keep it quiet? What about dating? When is a good time to talk about having diabetes with a boyfriend or girlfriend?
Be supportive so that your teen feels comfortable talking to you about challenges he or she is facing.
Then you can work together to solve problems.
If there are issues you are worried about or can't solve, don't go it alone — get professional help for your teen. A doctor, support group or mental health professional may be just what your teen needs.