Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is diabetes?
    Diabetes mellitus, often simply called diabetes, is a condition that results in high blood glucose levels from the lack or ineffective use of the hormone called insulin. Your body uses insulin to absorb glucose from the bloodstream into other cells to provide energy. A person with diabetes doesn’t use insulin effectively, doesn’t make enough insulin, or doesn’t make insulin at all.
  2. What are the types of diabetes?
    Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas isn’t able to make a hormone called insulin because the body’s immune system has attacked and destroyed the cells that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in children and young adults, and for that reason, it is sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes. It is possible, however, to develop type 1 diabetes at any age. Type 1 diabetes is far less common than type 2 diabetes.

    Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when the body doesn’t use insulin effectively. Even though type 2 diabetes is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes and is more common among middle-aged and older populations, people of any age, including children, can be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
  3. What are the symptoms of diabetes?
    Some common symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:
    • Frequent urination
    • Excessive thirst
    • Extreme hunger
    • Fatigue
    • Blurry vision or other sudden vision changes
    • Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
    • Frequent infections, and
    • Unexplained weight loss
  4. What causes type 2 diabetes?
    Type 2 diabetes is the result of the body’s inability to effectively use insulin to absorb glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. This is called insulin resistance. There are a number of risk factors that contribute to insulin resistance, though the exact mechanism for each is still being researched.

    Some of these risk factors include metabolic syndrome, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, and family history. Race and age can also be risk factors. Additionally, women who have had gestational diabetes and women who have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  5. Who develops type 2 diabetes?
    Type 2 diabetes is more common in middle-aged or older people, and people who are obese and/or physically inactive. It is also more common in African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians than whites.
  6. How can I know if I have diabetes?
    Your healthcare provider can perform blood and urine tests to see if you have diabetes. Normal blood glucose is between 70 mg/dL and 100 mg/dL. The standard diagnosis of diabetes is made when two blood tests show that your fasting blood glucose level is 126 mg/dL or greater.
  7. How is diabetes managed?
    Diabetes is managed through proper diet, exercise and, if needed, medication. People with diabetes must closely monitor their blood glucose levels. Steps are then taken to keep blood glucose levels as normal as possible.

    Type 1 diabetes is controlled with:
    • Insulin
    • Meal planning
    • Exercise
    Type 2 diabetes is controlled with:
    • Diet and exercise
    • Medicine taken by the mouth
    • Insulin
  8. What should my blood glucose level be?
    Blood glucose, or blood sugar, ranges may be different for each person and can change throughout the day. Your healthcare provider will tell you what range is good for you. As a general guideline, if your blood glucose is less than 80 mg/dL or more than 180 mg/dL for three days in a row, call your healthcare provider.
  9. What are the symptoms of low blood glucose?
    Most people have symptoms of low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) when their blood glucose is less than 70 mg/dL. When your blood glucose is low, your body gives out signs that you need food. Different people have different symptoms. You will learn to know your symptoms.

    Common low blood glucose symptoms include the following:

    Early symptoms
    You may:
    • Feel weak
    • Feel dizzy
    • Feel hungry
    • Tremble
    • Feel shaky
    • Sweat
    • Have a pounding heart
    • Have pale skin
    • Feel frightened or anxious
    Late symptoms
    You may:
    • Feel confused
    • Have a headache
    • Feel cranky
    • Have poor coordination
    • Have bad dreams or nightmares
    • Be unable keep your mind on one subject
    • Feel a numbness in your mouth and tongue
    • Pass out
  10. How is hypoglycemia treated?
    Follow the “Rule of 15”: eat 15 grams of a fast-acting or simple carbohydrate such as four glucose tablets, half a cup of fruit juice or non-diet soda, or six fruit candies. Recheck blood glucose. Repeat every 15 minutes if blood glucose is still less than 70 mg/dL.
  11. What kinds of medication do people take for diabetes?
    See Insulin and Other Medications under Type 1 Diabetes, or Medications under Type 2 Diabetes.
  12. Can I take both pills and insulin to control my blood glucose?
    Yes. The combination of insulin and an oral medication, when taken as directed by your doctor, is very safe and effective in controlling blood glucose. A typical combination therapy consists of taking an oral medication during the day and insulin at night. Once you begin taking insulin, you will need to monitor your blood glucose more often to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia.
  13. What are insulin pumps?
    Insulin pumps are small, computerized devices, about the size of a beeper, that you wear on your belt or put in your pocket. They have a small flexible tube with a fine needle on the end to insert a plastic catheter under the skin of your abdomen. The needle is removed once the catheter is taped in place. A carefully measured, steady flow of insulin is released into the tissue. Insulin pumps can cost $6,000 to $10,000 for the pump. There are additional costs for necessary supplies to use the pump.

    Using a pump requires you to monitor your blood glucose level at least four times a day. You input your carbohydrate intake to the pump, and the pump delivers insulin depending on your food intake and exercise program. Some healthcare providers prefer the insulin pump over injections because it’s meant to mimic a working pancreas, but discussing whether a pump will work for you is an important part of shared decision making.
  14. If I have diabetes, should I avoid all sweets and sugars?
    If you have diabetes, you should limit the amount of fats and sweets you eat. These foods have calories, but not much nutrition. Some contain saturated fats and cholesterol that increase your risk of heart disease. Limiting these foods will help you lose weight and keep your blood glucose and blood fats under control.

    It is okay to have sweets once in a while. Try having sugar-free popsicles, diet soda, fat-free ice cream or frozen yogurt, or sugar-free hot cocoa mix to satisfy a "sweet tooth." Remember, fat-free and low sugar foods still have calories. Talk with your diabetes educator about how to fit sweets into your meal plan.
  15. How can I monitor the development and progression of diabetic complications?
    Eye disease (retinopathy)
    All patients with diabetes should see an ophthalmologist yearly for a dilated eye examination -- beginning at diagnosis in people with type 2 diabetes, and after 5 years in people with type 1 diabetes after puberty. Patients with known eye disease, symptoms of blurred vision in one eye, or blind spots may need to see their ophthalmologist more frequently.

    Kidney disease (nephropathy)
    Urine and blood testing should be performed yearly. Regular blood pressure checks are important, since control of hypertension (high blood pressure) is essential in slowing kidney disease. Generally, blood pressure should be maintained less than 140/80 in adults. Persistent leg or foot swelling may be a symptom of kidney disease and should be reported to your doctor.

    Nerve disease (neuropathy) Numbness or tingling in your feet should be reported to your doctor at your regular visits. You should check your feet daily for redness, calluses, cracks, or skin breakdown. If you notice these symptoms before your scheduled visit, notify your doctor immediately.
  16. Can diabetes be cured?
    No. A cure for diabetes has not yet been found. However, diabetes can be treated and managed. Most people with diabetes manage their disease and lead normal lives. Without proper care, diabetes can lead to:
    • Heart disease
    • Kidney disease
    • High blood pressure
    • Low blood pressure
    • Eye damage and blindness
    • Gum disease
    • Serious infections in feet, sometimes requiring amputation
    • Damage to nerves, resulting in pain or loss of sensation