Diabetes 101

Diabetes is a complex disease with multiple causes and no known cure. It is defined by abnormal levels of sugar in the blood and can lead to complications such as heart attack and stroke, kidney disease, blindness, limb amputations and premature death.

It’s a global issue, but its impact is felt by people and families across Canada. If you don’t have it, there is a good chance someone in your family or circle of friends is affected. It is estimated today that more than 10 million Canadians are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. It’s important that Canadians educate themselves about the disease to recognize if they are at risk.

There are three main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes most commonly begins in childhood and occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin, a hormone that controls the level of sugar in the blood. The most common type of diabetes is type 2, where the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not effectively use the insulin it produces. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood, although increasing numbers of children and adolescents in high-risk populations are being diagnosed. A third type of diabetes is gestational diabetes—a temporary condition that develops during pregnancy. Blood sugar levels usually return to normal following delivery, however both mother and child are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Pre-diabetes occurs when a person’s blood sugar levels are elevated, but not yet at a level high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

Approximately 50 per cent of those with pre-diabetes will go onto develop type 2 diabetes.

While it’s true that a healthy diet and physical activity can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes is not simply a disease of lifestyle—other risk factors such as age (being over 40), family history, ethnicity (being of Aboriginal, African, Asian, Hispanic or South Asian descent), socioeconomic status, other health complications and environment also play a significant part.

While a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for everyone, it is especially important for people who are at high risk for type 2 diabetes. Living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes or its onset, even by as much as 60 per cent. A good place to start is reducing or eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages, which studies show increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a complicated disease, but it can be managed successfully with support from a strong diabetes care team of family, friends and health-care professionals. With proper care and management, people with diabetes can live active, independent and vital lives. The Canadian Diabetes Association has resources and services available for people living with diabetes and their support networks. You can learn more by visiting diabetes.ca or calling 1-800-BANTING (226-8464).

November is Diabetes Awareness Month! The Canadian Diabetes Association hopes you can find two minutes to take the CANRISK type 2 diabetes online risk test and take charge of your health. Taking the test is simple—visit take2minutes.ca and click “Start” to begin. The campaign runs until November 30, 2015.