Diabetes Month: What is Diabetes?!

For those of you who do not know me personally – a huge part of my life revolves around diabetes.  I work as a Diabetes Educator- > 90% of my patients have diabetes, either just by itself or diabetes combined with other chronic illnesses.

Since it is such a big part of my life and it is American Diabetes Month in November I thought it pertienent to finally address it on here.  And will dedicate several more posts this month on diabetes related issues, myths, facts, etc.

There 4 classifications or types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, Pre-Diabetes, and Gestational Diabetes.  Each are managed very similarly in that good nutrition, and physical activity are strongly encouraged (AKA “Having a healthy lifestyle”) help manage the blood sugars.  Then medications are used as needed.


Type 1 Diabetes:

T1 used to be known as “Insulin Dependent” or “Juvenile Diabetes”, both of these terms are outdated, and no longer really appropriate to describe the disease.

T1 is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own pancreas and the cells of the pancreas that make insulin.  The start of the disease can come at any age, and while it is vital for these individuals to give themselves insulin injections people with Type 2 diabetes also use insulin in some cases.

Insulin is so important because when we eat carb foods- those break down into sugar.  That sugar is used as our bodies’ fuel source – but it needs insulin’s help to do that.  It’s insulin’s main job to pickup sugar in the blood after a meal and carry it into our little cells where that sugar will actually be made into fuel.

No insulin = no fuel = high blood sugar.

This same concept is important to understand for Type 2 Diabetes.


What is the difference between Type 1 and 2 Diabetes you ask?

In Type 2 Diabetes those individuals still make their own insulin.  But over time the body becomes resistant to the insulin.  If your body is insulin resistant that insulin can’t deposit sugar into your cells as efficiently.  Which causes both higher levels of sugar and insulin in the blood.

Higher than normal levels of circulating insulin over time can promote weight gain which can further the problem of insulin resistance.

It is important to point out that you do not need to be overweight or obese to get Type 2 Diabetes.  But I’ll talk more about this in later posts.

Additionally people with Type 2 Diabetes can use either pills, insulin, or in some cases no meds at all to manage their diabetes.

Over time- especially when people have had diabetes for a very long time, the body can slowly start making less insulin- this can happen as part of the disease and/or part of aging.


What is Pre-Diabetes?!

Pre-Diabetes or “Glucose Intolerance” are terms used to describe a growing population of people (~ 79 million) that have higher than normal blood sugars, but those blood sugars are not high enough to be considered “diabetic”.

I explain it to people like this: “you’re knocking on the door for diabetes, but you haven’t gone in the house yet, the more lifestyle changes you make/work on decrease your likelihood of going through that door”.

That’s kind of how it is.  These people may check their blood sugars (depending if they get coverage from their insurance to do so), but they mostly work with modifiable risk factors: watching portions of their carbohydrate, increasing/starting physical activity, working to control high cholesterol/high blood pressure, and cessation of harmful behaviors (i.e. excessive alcohol intake, and/or smoking).

It is important to note that in most people once there is a documented issue with problems pertaining to blood glucose- it is not something that will just “vanish”.

Gestational Diabetes…

Is a type of diabetes women can get when their eggo is prego (errrr pregnant).  It happens primarily due to pregnancy hormones causing the body to become insulin resistant during the pregnancy- causing higher than normal blood sugars.

Once the baby is delivered there are no more pregnancy hormones (or not as much) and the gestational diabetes “goes away”.

It’s important to note that having gestational diabetes in one pregnancy increases the likelihood of having it in future pregnancies, and having diabetes later in life.

This is managed the same way, however not all diabetes medicines are FDA approved to be used in pregnancy, so sometimes women who are diabetic prior to becoming pregnant need certain medicines changed while they are pregnant.

 Gestational Diabetes

What do you feel are some of the biggest misconceptions regarding diabetes?

Please remember that while I am a professional this is a blog, this is not a substitute for meeting with a diabetes educator and/or doctor in person for diabetes related treatment, questions, or concerns. 


-The American Diabetes Association:


-“Cracking the Metabolic Code”

By James B LaValle, R.Ph, CCN, ND

-ACOG: American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology


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