Diabetes is a condition that can cause your blood sugar (glucose) to be too high or too low. Your body uses sugar for energy. If a healthy amount of sugar in the blood is not maintained, diabetes can lead to blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputations and nerve damage.
There are three main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults, but people of any age can develop type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone that helps distribute sugar throughout the body to create energy.
- Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age. This type of diabetes is a metabolic disorder – the body makes insulin, but does not use it effectively. See more on preventing type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes occurs in about 1 in 20 pregnancies. During pregnancy the body makes hormones that keep insulin from distributing glucose throughout the body.
Some of the unique risk factors for women include:
- White women are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes is more common in women of color than white women.
- All women are at risk for gestational diabetes during pregnancy, which may increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Women with diabetes have a higher risk than men for developing cardiovascular disease.
- The diabetic condition ketoacidosis (DKA), also called diabetic coma, is more common in women with diabetes.
- Vaginal infections and complications during pregnancy are common for women with diabetes.
- Women with diabetes have an increased chance of developing peripheral vascular disease (PVD).
What you can do to prevent or treat diabetes
Type 1 and gestational diabetes cannot be prevented. The best way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to make these healthy lifestyle changes:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat foods
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
- Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks per day at most
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol low
There is no cure for diabetes, so people with the disease may have to work hard to keep their blood sugar in check. If you're diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor will recommend treatment options, which may include:
- Keeping track of your blood glucose levels with frequent testing.
- Changing your diet.
- Taking medications to help control diabetes. Insulin is usually given through a shot or pump.
How to talk to your doctor
Be sure your doctor knows if any of your family members have diabetes. And, talk to him or her about your risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
If you have symptoms of diabetes, it's important to get tested right away so you can start managing the disease. Symptoms include:
- Being very thirsty
- Urinating a lot
- Feeling very hungry
- Feeling very tired
- Losing weight without trying
- Having sores that are slow to heal
- Having dry, itchy skin
- Losing feeling in or tingling in the hands or feet
- Having blurry vision
- Having more infections than usual
If your doctor suspects diabetes, you will have either a fasting blood glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test to check your blood sugars.