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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the way your body uses the sugar in food for energy. When you eat food, your body turns most of it into sugar. Most people’s bodies make the hormone insulin, which takes that sugar and helps your body turn it into energy. If you have diabetes, you either don’t make insulin or can’t use insulin, so the sugar stays in your bloodstream, which can cause health problems. There’s no cure for diabetes, but with careful daily management, people with diabetes can live long, healthy lives.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are 3 different types of diabetes —  type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common.

Type 1 Diabetes: If you have type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t make insulin. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children or teenagers, but it can happen at any age. It’s treated with insulin, a hormone your body needs to survive.

Type 2 Diabetes: If you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t respond to insulin, a hormone your body needs to survive. This is the most common type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes usually happens in adults, but it can happen at any age.

Gestational Diabetes: This is diabetes that happens while you’re pregnant, and goes away after your pregnancy ends.

What causes diabetes?

Different types of diabetes can have different causes:

The cause of type 1 diabetes isn’t known, and there’s no way to prevent it. We do know that it involves your immune system (your body’s defense against getting sick) attacking the part of your body that makes insulin, leading to little or no insulin.

The cause of type 2 diabetes is thought to be a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. Type 2 diabetes is linked to being overweight, though not all people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.

Gestational diabetes is caused by hormone changes that can happen during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Peeing more than usual or peeing a lot, especially at night
  • Feeling very thirsty or hungry
  • Losing weight without trying to
  • Feeling very tired
  • Dry skin
  • Blurry vision
  • Having sores that take a long time to heal
  • Having infections more than usual
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet

If you start feeling these symptoms, talk with a doctor or nurse as soon as you can. Type 1 diabetes can be very serious — and can even kill you — if it’s not treated.

How do I know if I have diabetes?

It’s recommended that you get tested for type 2 diabetes starting at age 45, especially if you’re overweight. Your doctor or nurse might suggest that you get tested at a younger age if you’re overweight, have symptoms, or are more likely to get diabetes for any other reason.

There are several tests that your nurse or doctor may use to diagnose diabetes:

  • A1c test – this test measures your average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months.
  • Blood sugar test — this involves measuring your blood sugar from a sample of your blood.
  • Fasting blood sugar test – this involves measuring your blood sugar from a blood sample after you fast overnight.
  • Sugar tolerance test – for this test, you’ll have your blood sugar measured before and after drinking a glucose (sugar) drink after you fast overnight.

Worried about diabetes? Talk with your doctor or nurse about getting tested.

How can I prevent getting diabetes?

There’s nothing you can do to prevent type 1 diabetes, but there are things you can do to prevent type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes:

  • Eat healthy foods and keep a healthy weight – eat fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains. Eating a lot of simple carbohydrates (like most pastas, rice, and breads) makes you more likely to get diabetes, since your body turns them into sugar. It’s a good idea to track how many carbs you eat and limit them as best you can. Try to stay away from sugary things like sodas, energy drinks, packaged fruit juices, and desserts.
  • Be active – try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. This can include things like walking, going to the gym, riding a bike, or swimming. Anything that makes you sweat and breathe heavier. If you don’t have time to do 30 minutes in a row, then you can do 10 minutes at a time, 3 times a day. You can also find small ways throughout the day to be active, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. The important thing is to move regularly throughout the day. A doctor or nurse can help you figure out what regular exercise should look like for you.

How is diabetes managed?

Diabetes is usually managed with both lifestyle changes and medicine. You can’t treat it on your own. Depending on which type of diabetes you have, you may need to take insulin as a shot or continuous pump. There are also other diabetes medicines that may be a shot or a pill. Your doctor or nurse will help you figure out which medicines make sense for you.

All people with diabetes need to test their blood sugar regularly. Your nurse or doctor can let you know how often to check your sugar at home.

Eating healthy, exercising regularly, and keeping a healthy weight can also help people with diabetes stay healthy.

As part of your treatment, you may need to see a foot doctor, eye doctor, nutritionist, kidney doctor, or diabetes specialist (or endocrinologist). They can help you stay healthy with diabetes.

If you have diabetes, treatment is really, really important. Diabetes can be very dangerous and even deadly if it’s not treated every day, or you don’t keep track of your meals or exercise. So be sure to talk to your nurse or doctor about how you can stay on top of your medicines and other treatments.

Most Planned Parenthood health centers don’t treat diabetes. Some may be able to diagnose diabetes and refer you to somewhere that can help with your treatment and management of diabetes.

What do I need to know about diabetes during pregnancy?

People with diabetes can have totally healthy pregnancies. If you have diabetes during pregnancy, it’s really important to track your blood sugar levels and stay on top of any medicines your doctor or nurse has given you. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly can also help you have a healthy pregnancy. If you have diabetes and are thinking about getting pregnant, talk with a doctor or nurse about what you can do to prepare for a healthy pregnancy.

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