Diabetes Basics

  • What is prediabetes?
  • How is diabetes diagnosed?
  • What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?
  • How do you know if you have diabetes?
  • Why is it important to keep blood sugars controlled?
  • How can I know if someone is having an episode of low blood sugar?
  • What should I do if someone is having an episode of low blood sugar?
  • Who will develop diabetes?
  • What can I do to prevent Diabetes?

What is diabetes?


Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot control the blood sugar levels so they swing abnormally high or low.


In someone who is healthy, the body is able to keep the blood sugar levels in a normal range. For example when you eat, your blood sugar goes up and your body secretes insulin* to bring it back down; and when you haven’t eaten for a long time your body will actually produce sugar so that it doesn’t go too low. On the other hand, in someone with diabetes, the body is either not producing insulin or is not using the insulin well so it is not able to control the blood sugar the way it is supposed to. 


*Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas. The pancreas is a small gland that lies behind the stomach.

What is prediabetes?


Pre-diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 Diabetes. It is reversible with a healthy lifestyle, including nutrition and exercise, but could progress into diabetes if lifestyle changes are not made.



How is diabetes diagnosed?









Hemoglobin A1c is a blood test which shows the average of your blood sugar levels over the past 3 months.


Fasting Blood Glucose is a test that shows blood sugar levels after 8 hours without eating (fasting).


The 2 hour Plasma Glucose test shows blood sugar levels 2 hours after eating a meal.

The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?


There are different types of diabetes. They all come from an issue with controlling blood sugar levels but the reasons are different.


The way that the body controls blood sugar levels is through a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the sugar go from the blood into your cells so that your body can use this sugar for energy.


When you have type 1 diabetes, your body is not producing insulin anymore so the sugar that goes into your blood stream when you eat is not able to get into the cells and instead just stays in the blood. The blood sugar will then be really high. This is why Type 1 diabetics will need to take insulin with each meal, so that the body can take the sugar out of the blood and use it for energy.


When you have type 2 diabetes, your body is producing insulin but it is not using the insulin properly so the sugar is not able to get into the cells. This can happen for a number of reasons like if you are overweight, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. In this case you may need to take medications to help your body use the insulin that you are making.

How do you know if you have diabetes?


WARNING SIGNS  (Symptoms of Diabetes)


·       Increased thirst

·         Frequent urination

·        Weight loss or gain

·        Extreme fatigue

·        Blurry vision

·        Slow wound healing

·        Frequent infections

·        Tingling or numbness in hands and feet

·        Sexual dysfunction

Why is it important to keep blood sugars controlled?


If your blood sugar isn’t controlled, it can either go too high or too low. Here is why it’s important to avoid either situation:


Too high:


In a type 1 diabetic, high blood sugars will arise when they eat a lot of carbohydrates (sugar) and do not take enough insulin to move the sugar into the body’s cells so it accumulates in the blood. In a type 2 diabetic, high blood sugars will arise often when they eat a meal very high in carbohydrates and low in other nutrients (like vegetables), especially if they are not taking their medications. If a type 2 diabetic is taking their medications as prescribed, eating healthy and exercising and their blood sugars are still very high, they should go see their doctor to possibly adjust their medications.


Having high blood sugar slowly damages every part of your body. It affects your blood vessels, nerves and organs. Over time, this damage can lead to complications of diabetes. These complications include:


  • Tingling/numbness in the feet and hands

  • Wounds that don’t heal properly

  • Blurry vision which can progress to blindness

  • Kidney disease

  • Heart disease


These complications can all be prevented by controlling blood sugars. The problem is that many people do not notice they are having high blood sugars until they start to feel some of these symptoms, but by then there has already been damage done to the body. This is why it is extremely important to check blood sugars as often as possible.


Too low:


Low blood sugar can arise in any diabetic that is taking insulin, or some oral medications (tablets). It happens when they either do not eat for a long time or take too much insulin for the amount of carbohydrates that they ate.


Low blood sugars can be very dangerous because the body is not getting the energy it needs.

How can I know if someone is having an episode of low blood sugar?


Symptoms of low blood sugar include:


  • Sweating and chills

  • Nervousness or anxiety

  • Dizziness

  • Confusion

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • Shakiness

  • Hunger and nausea

  • Blurred vision

  • Fainting

What should I do if someone is having an episode of low blood sugar?


1. Give them 15g of sugar:

  • ½ cup of juice or regular soda (not diet)

  • 1 tbsp sugar, honey or corn syrum  (can mix with water)

  • 1 cup nonfat or 1% milk

  • Glucose tablets or gel tube


2. Wait 15 minutes to see if they are getting better. Get them to test their blood sugar if possible. 


3. If they are still low, repeat steps 1 and 2.


4. Once blood sugars are normal, tell them to eat a small snack if their next meal or snack is more than one or two hours away. 

Who will develop diabetes?


Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disease. Some people will develop type 1 diabetes because they have a specific gene that makes them more susceptible to it, whether or not they follow a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately it is very hard to know who will get type 1 diabetes and there is no way to prevent it. Most people who get type 1 diabetes will be diagnosed before 20 years old, but sometimes it can develop later in life.


On the other hand, type 2 diabetes is a disease that progresses slowly throughout many years and depends on many factors. Many of these factors are genetic, which is why if you have close family with diabetes you have a higher chance of getting it yourself, but there are also many factors that can be controlled through healthy diet and exercise. This is why type 2 diabetes can be prevented, no matter what your genes are.


Risk factors for type 2 diabetes:

  • Being overweight

  • Having high blood pressure

  • Having high cholesterol

  • Having close family members with diabetes

  • Having had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

  • Older age

  • Being a member of a high risk ethnic group (of African descent, Hispanic, Asian or Aboriginal)


The first three risk factors (in yellow) are controllable and decreasing any one of these will significantly reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes even if you have other risk factors.

What can I do to prevent diabetes?


Type 2 diabetes is preventable if you follow a healthy lifestyle. The biggest risk factors for diabetes are high cholesterol, high blood pressure and being overweight and all of these factors are possible to control through a healthy diet and exercise. 



Click on the links below to learn more about how to prevent diabetes through healthy eating and exercise: