Family Medicine North  

What is diabetes?
Diabetes Mellitus, commonly referred to as "diabetes," means "sweet urine." Diabetes mellitus means "to flow, honey" in Greek

It is a disease that affects the body's ability to produce or respond to insulin, a hormone that allows blood glucose (blood sugar) to enter the cells of the body and be used for energy. It results from defects in insulin secretion, insulin action, or both. In diabetes too much glucose stays in the blood. Elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia) lead to spillage of glucose into the urine.

As a result of elevated levels of blood glucose, two problems occur: body cells become starved for energy, and, over time, the high glucose levels can damage the nerves, eyes, kidneys, heart and blood vessels.

Diabetes is not an infectious disease, like a cold or flu. You can’t "catch" it from someone else, and no one can catch it from you. Diabetes is a lifelong disease.

Symptoms include:

  • excessive thirst
  • excessive urination
  • frequent infections such as thrush
  • extreme hunger
  • unusual weight loss
  • extreme fatigue
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweet smelling breath
  • men with diabetes often have erectile dysfunction which can begin before the diagnosis of diabetes is made. It is therefore recommended that men with unexplained erectile dysfunction be screened for diabetes with a fasting blood glucose test.

How is diabetes mellitus diagnosed?
Diabetes can be diagnosed by performing a fasting plasma glucose test. The test is as follows: After the person has fasted overnight (at least 8 hours), a sample of blood is drawn and sent to the laboratory for analysis.

Normal fasting plasma glucose levels are less than 110 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). Fasting plasma glucose levels of more than 126 mg/dl on two or more tests on different days indicate diabetes.

There are 4 main types of diabetes:

  • Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM)
  • Non Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM)
  • Gestational Diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy)
  • Secondary Diabetes

Insulin dependent diabetes was also called Type 1 diabetes, or juvenille diabetes because it usually starts early in life. Non-insulin dependent diabetes was also called Type 2 diabetes or adult-onset diabetes because it came on later in life. A person who starts with non-insulin dependent diabetes may eventually need insulin.

Secondary diabetes mellitus refers to elevated blood sugar levels that develop as the result of another medical condition. Secondary diabetes mellitus also develops when the pancreatic tissue responsible for the production of insulin is absent because it is destroyed by disease, such as chronic pancreatitis, trauma, or surgical removal of the pancreas. Diabetes can also result from other hormonal disturbances, such as excessive growth hormone production (acromegaly) and Cushing's syndrome.

Cure for diabetes?
A cure for Diabetes has not been found yet, however, it can be controlled. Ways to control diabetes are: maintaining blood glucose levels, blood fat levels and weight. Blood glucose levels can be maintained by following a diet designed by your doctor, exercising, and eating at regular intervals.

Treatment options for diabetes
Some of the most common treatment options are: oral medicines (diabetes pills), dietary changes, exercise, insulin and Islet Cell Transplantation. The oral medicines may have negative side effects including: nausea, diarrhea, metallic taste in mouth, low blood glucose, skin rash or itching, and weight gain. Rare side effects are liver failure, respiratory infection, headache, and pain

How does exercise help control diabetes?
Exercise is very important to maintaining a healthy life and managing diabetes. Combining diet, exercise, and medicine (when prescribed by your doctor) will help control your weight and blood sugar level. Exercise is good for you because:

  • It lowers blood sugar by speeding the transport of glucose in the cells. (Known as invisible insulin.)
  • It helps promote weight loss and maintenance of ideal body weight.
  • It decreases cardiovascular risk by making heart pump more efficiently.
  • It improves circulation.
  • It reduces demands on the pancreas.
  • It improves our muscular tone.
  • It reduces stress.

Diabetes and your health care provider
Controlling diabetes is very important and should be supervised by a medical doctor. When diabetes is controlled, it will help prevent serious complications such as: infections, kidney damage, eye damage, nerve damage to feet and heart disease. Complications can be avoided by aggressively controlling sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.

You should inform your doctor if you have experienced any symptoms of eye, nerve, kidney, or cardiovascular problems such as: blurred vision, numbness or tingling in your feet, persistent hand, feet, face, or leg swelling, cramping or pain in the legs, chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness or weakness on one side of your body, or unusual weight gain.

It is important that you tell your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms because they might be symptoms of other serious conditions.

Common complications of diabetes are:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Kidney disease
  • Sciatica

Diabetes and pregnancy
Women who have diabetes can become pregnant. However, the woman will have special health concerns, such as keeping blood glucose (sugar) levels in good control, managing diabetes medications, adjusting meal plans, and exercising regularly.

For more information: