Diabetes is a condition where people don't produce enough insulin, and/or their cells don't respond properly to insulin. Insulin is an important hormone produced by the pancreas that moves glucose, a type of sugar, into the body's cells from the blood. Once inside the body's cells, glucose is used as a source of energy. If insulin isn't available or doesn't work correctly to move glucose from the blood into cells, glucose will stay in the blood. Blood sugar levels will then increase.
In Canada, over 3 million people have diabetes, and about one-third of adults with the condition are unaware that they have it. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, 3.7 million people in Canada will have diabetes by the year 2020.
There are 3 main kinds of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot make insulin. Everyone with type 1 diabetes needs to take insulin on a daily basis. Less than 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin and/or the body does not use insulin properly. It usually occurs in adults, although in some cases, children may be affected. People with type 2 diabetes are treated with lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) and diabetes medications (either oral medications or insulin). More than 90% of all people with diabetes have type 2. Type 2 diabetes is very closely linked to body weight and obesity.
Gestational diabetes is a temporary type of diabetes that is first diagnosed during pregnancy. About 2% to 4% of pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes. If a woman has gestational diabetes, both she and her baby have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later on.
Some people with type 2 diabetes develop a condition called impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) before being diagnosed with diabetes. IGT means that the body has become less sensitive to the effects of insulin, and has to work harder to control blood glucose levels. A person with IGT has blood sugar (glucose) levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to say they have diabetes. As in type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin, but there may be less of it, or the body does not use insulin properly.
Studies have shown that keeping blood sugar levels as close to the normal range as possible can help prevent the long-term health problems associated with diabetes, such as nerve damage, kidney disease, and blindness. Whichever type of diabetes you have, you'll need to measure your blood sugar frequently and follow a treatment plan to keep your blood sugar under control. Your doctor and pharmacist can show you how to monitor blood sugar levels. See our disease database articles on diabetes for more information.
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