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Diabetes

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What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes means that your blood glucose (often called blood sugar) is too high. Your blood always has some glucose in it because your body needs glucose for energy to keep you going. But too much glucose in the blood isn't good for your health.

How do you get high blood glucose?

Glucose comes from the food you eat and is also made in your liver and muscles. Your blood carries the glucose to all the cells in your body. Insulin is a chemical (a hormone) made by the pancreas. The pancreas releases insulin into the blood. Insulin helps the glucose from food get into your cells. If your body doesn't make enough insulin or if the insulin doesn't work the way it should, glucose can't get into your cells. It stays in your blood instead. Your blood glucose level then gets too high, causing pre-diabetes or diabetes.

What is pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and for heart disease and stroke. The good news is if you have pre-diabetes, you can reduce your risk of getting diabetes. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes and even return to normal glucose levels.

What are the signs of diabetes?

The signs of diabetes are

  • being very thirsty
  • urinating often
  • feeling very hungry or tired
  • losing weight without trying
  • having sores that heal slowly
  • having dry, itchy skin
  • losing the feeling in your feet or having tingling in your feet
  • having blurry eyesight

You may have had one or more of these signs before you found out you had diabetes. Or you may have had no signs at all. A blood test to check your glucose levels will show if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.

What kind of diabetes do you have?

People can get diabetes at any age. There are three main kinds. Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. In this form of diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas no longer make insulin because the body's immune system has attacked and destroyed them. Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes taking insulin shots or using an insulin pump, making wise food choices, being physically active, taking aspirin daily (for some), and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.

Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. People can develop type 2 diabetes at any ageā€”even during childhood. This form of diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by producing more insulin. In time, however, it loses the ability to secrete enough insulin in response to meals. Being overweight and inactive increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Treatment includes using diabetes medicines, making wise food choices, being physically active, taking aspirin daily, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.

Some women develop gestational diabetes during the late stages of pregnancy. Although this form of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who has had it is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes is caused by the hormones of pregnancy or a shortage of insulin.

Diabetes can start at any age.

This guide is for people who have either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

  • If you use insulin, look at the white boxes for "Action Steps."
  • If you don't use insulin, look at the gray boxes for "Action Steps."

Why do you need to take care of your diabetes?

After many years, diabetes can lead to serious problems in your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth. But the most serious problem caused by diabetes is heart disease. When you have diabetes, you are more than twice as likely as people without diabetes to have heart disease or a stroke.

If you have diabetes, your risk of a heart attack is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack. Both women and men with diabetes are at risk. You may not even have the typical signs of a heart attack.

You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by controlling your blood pressure and blood fat levels. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about quitting. Remember that every step toward your goals helps!

Later in this guide, we'll tell you how you can try to prevent or delay long-term problems. The best way to take care of your health is to work with your health care team to keep your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol in your target range.

What's a desirable blood glucose level?

Everyone's blood has some glucose in it. In people who don't have diabetes, the normal range is about 70 to 120. Blood glucose goes up after eating, but returns to the normal range 1 or 2 hours later.

Ask your health care team when you should check your blood glucose with a meter. Talk about whether the blood glucose targets listed below are best for you. Then write in your own targets.

Blood Glucose Targets for Most People

When Target levels My target levels

Before meals

90 to 130

_____________

1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal

less than 180

_____________

Be Proactive!

Do four things every day to lower high blood glucose:

  • Follow your meal plan. Diabetic Eating

  • Be physically active. Exercises

  • Take your diabetes medicine.

  • Check your blood glucose.

Experts say most people with diabetes should try to keep their blood glucose level as close as possible to the level of someone who doesn't have diabetes. The closer to normal your blood glucose is, the lower your chances are of developing damage to your eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Check with your doctor about the right range for you.

Your health care team will help you learn how to reach your target blood glucose range. Your main health care providers are your doctor, nurse, diabetes educator, and dietitian.

When you see your health care provider, ask lots of questions. Before you leave, be sure you understand everything you need to know about taking care of your diabetes.

A diabetes educator is a health care worker who teaches people how to manage their diabetes. Your educator may be a nurse, a dietitian, or another kind of health care worker.

A dietitian is someone who's specially trained to help people plan their meals.

Be Physically Active

Physical activity is good for your diabetes. Walking, swimming, dancing, riding a bicycle, playing baseball, and bowling are all good ways to be active. You can even get exercise when you clean house or work in your garden. Physical activity is especially good for people with diabetes because

  • physical activity helps keep weight down
  • physical activity helps insulin work better to lower blood glucose
  • physical activity is good for your heart and lungs
  • physical activity gives you more energy

Before you begin exercising, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may check your heart and your feet to be sure you have no special problems. If you have high blood pressure or eye problems, some exercises like weightlifting may not be safe. Your health care team can help you find safe exercises.

Try to be active almost every day for a total of about 30 minutes. If you haven't been very active lately, begin slowly. Start with 5 to 10 minutes, and then add more time. Or exercise for 10 minutes, three times a day.

If your blood glucose is less than 100 to 120, have a snack before you exercise.

Being active helps you feel better.

When you exercise, carry glucose tablets or a carbohydrate snack with you in case you get hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Wear or carry an identification tag or card saying that you have diabetes.

ACTION STEPS

If you use insulin

  • See your doctor before starting a physical activity program.


  • Check your blood glucose before, during, and after exercising. Don't exercise when your blood glucose is over 240 or if you have ketones in your urine.


  • Don't exercise right before you go to sleep, because it could cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during the night.

Volumes of Information on Diabetes and Living with Diabetes



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