Diabetes is a chronic illness marked by the body’s inability to metabolize sugar into insulin—a hormone that regulates glucose in the blood—causing elevated blood sugar levels. If it is not properly managed, excess blood sugar can lead to a variety of other complications that are potentially life-threatening.
Prediabetes (a reversible condition that precludes diabetes) and diabetes affect over 100 million adults in the U.S. annually. On average, one in four Americans with diabetes goes undiagnosed. The condition is considered an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but with a diagnosis and proper care, many people are able to live normally with diabetes.
Individual symptoms may vary based on the type of diabetes present, but in general, those with diabetes experience:
- Physical or mental fatigue
- Frequent urination
- Excessive/unquenchable thirst
- Excessive hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurry vision
- Bruises that won’t heal
- Tingling or numbness in extremities
- Chronic inflammation
There are many types of diabetes, and each variety manifests in different ways. The most common types in children and adults are:
Type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. It most commonly appears in individuals during childhood and happens when the pancreas can’t make enough—or any—insulin.
Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most commonly-diagnosed type among adults. However, many teenagers are diagnosed as well. The condition is indicated by mild symptoms and either low levels of insulin production or complete insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes increases the likelihood of heart disease or stroke.
Gestational diabetes. Some cases of diabetes are triggered in women during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is a lower risk form that typically regresses after birth, but can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the long term.
Many elements are thought to contribute to the onset of diabetes, but much is still unknown about the disease’s root causes. Some of the largest influencing factors include:
Genetic factors. Researchers believe that Type 1 diabetes is caused by certain genes or viruses. Scientists are actively studying ways to slow the onset of the disease.
Lifestyle and weight gain. Many cases of Type 2 diabetes are attributed to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. Excess body fat is sometimes correlated with insulin resistance, and can often lead to heart conditions associated with diabetes down the line.
Hormones. As with gestational diabetes, a surge in hormones (coupled with lifestyle and genetic factors) can influence insulin resistance or lack of insulin production.
Diabetes has a wide range of treatment options—especially when diagnosed early on, the condition is extremely manageable. Medical options include:
Metformin. Metformin is the primary medication prescribed for Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. It lowers the liver’s production of glucose while improving the efficiency of insulin use throughout the body. If metformin alone does not keep the body stable, doctors will usually prescribe additional medications.
Insulin. Many diabetics are prescribed one type or a combination of insulin to take throughout the day to stabilize blood glucose levels. Various types include:
– Rapid-acting. Designed to work within a few minutes, rapid-acting insulin has shorter-term effects.
– Intermediate-acting. Intermediate-acting insulin takes 2-4 hours to start metabolizing in the body and lasts for approximately 18 hours.
– Long-acting. Long-acting insulin takes longer to enter the bloodstream, but its effects last for over 24 hours.
Glucose tracker. In tandem with insulin treatments, those with diabetes can track blood glucose levels to better understand when it’s time to take a new dose and effectively manage symptoms.
Sulfonylureas and Meglitinides. Doctors might prescribe Type 2 diabetics with either sulfonylurea (like DiaBeta, Glynase, and Glucotrol) or meglitinides (such as Prandin and Starlix). Both groups of medications act similarly, stimulating the body’s insulin production. Potential risks associated with these types of medications include low blood sugar and weight gain.
Other options for preventing or managing diabetes can include:
Losing excess weight. Weight gain or excess weight can cause blood glucose levels to continuously spike. Sustained weight loss helps individuals better manage diabetes over time.
Maintaining a healthy diet. Eating a rainbow of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods can suppress symptoms—especially for Type 2 diabetes—keeps blood sugar more stable and aid weight loss. Patients can work with their doctor to develop a meal program that’s right for their needs.
Getting regular physical activity. Moderate exercise is another way to keep blood sugar in check. Exercising for 30 to 60 minutes approximately 3 to 5 days a week, and staying active throughout the day, can contribute to weight loss and lower blood sugar levels.
CBD. Chronic inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, or cause the underutilization of insulin. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has been shown to lessen inflammation in the body, and it’s a non-medication way for diabetics to find short-term relief throughout the day.
As with any chronic illness, it’s important to consult a medical professional to determine treatment options that are right for your needs.