What is Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious and increasingly prevalent medical condition that affects an estimated 30 million or more Americans. A staggering number more have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At Baptist Health, we are doing our part to address this growing problem by being a leading provider in both inpatient and outpatient settings for Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a group of metabolic disorders marked by elevated blood sugar levels that extend for long periods of time. Diabetes usually results from insufficient quantities of insulin or from insulin’s resistance to properly regulating blood sugar levels. 

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that stores converted food energy, sugar or glucose, inside cells, where it can be used to drive the day-to-day functions that are essential to life. Holding sugar in the bloodstream rather than in the cells is detrimental to good nutrition and health. 

Diabetes is typically a chronic condition, meaning that it can be controlled, but not cured by medical intervention and personal behaviors. Left untreated, diabetes can have critical health consequences, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, limb loss, and death.

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes comes before diabetes. It’s a medical condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than healthy but still not high enough to be considered diabetic. About five to ten percent of people with prediabetes are diagnosed with diabetes every year. People with prediabetes are also at greater risk for heart disease and stroke than people with moderate blood sugar levels. 

You can delay or even prevent the onset of diabetes by making lifestyle changes. These include losing weight and adding exercise to your daily routine. If you are overweight, losing five to ten percent of your body mass can make a difference. 

Complications of Diabetes

With the exception of gestational, diabetes is an incurable condition that affects nearly every part of the body. It is a major health risk in and of itself, but also as a contributor to other life-threatening diseases and conditions. Some of diabetes’s potential consequences are:

  • Cardiovascular Disease: Including chest pain, heart attack, stroke, and hardening of the arteries.
  • Nerve Damage: Numbness and loss of feeling in the extremities.
  • Kidney Damage: Including organ failure and end-stage renal disease.
  • Eye Damage: Can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, and/or blindness.
  • Foot Damage: Slow-healing cuts and possible amputation.
  • Skin Conditions: Including bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.
  • Depression and melancholy.

Diabetes should be managed under a physician’s guidance throughout a person’s life. The good news is that the most serious complications from diabetes can be slowed or stopped with appropriate care.

What Causes Diabetes?

Diabetes is a medical condition characterized by elevated levels of blood sugar or glucose. These elevated levels, called hyperglycemia, have been linked to a variety of serious health problems, including heart disease, strokes, kidney problems, and vision impairment. 

The chief cause of diabetes is your body’s inability to properly handle the sugars it produces for energy from food. Instead of being stored in cells, the sugars remain in the bloodstream where they’re ineffective at nourishing the body and can contribute to other health problems as well. This happens when insulin, a pancreatic hormone, ceases to be an effective regulator of blood sugar levels. 

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

Moderate or temporary increases in blood sugar will usually pass unnoticed. Persistently high blood sugar levels, in the range of 300 milligrams per deciliter, are more serious and often manifest in symptoms. These may include: 

  • extreme thirst 
  • frequent urination 
  • fatigue 
  • dry mouth 
  • blurred vision
  • nausea
  • rapid heartbeat
  • fruity breath odor

Sometimes diabetes leads to the opposite condition, extremely low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, which is also a health risk. Symptoms include: 

  • anxiety 
  • physical weakness 
  • shakiness 
  • lightheadedness 
  • confusion 
  • hunger 
  • speech difficulties

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

Diabetes is diagnosed based on the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. Blood sugar tests are relatively simple and can be performed quickly and safely at home or in a physician’s office. 

Diabetes is diagnosed by any of the following test results:

  • Fasting blood sugar levels of > than or = to 126 mg/dl on 2 or more occasions.
  • Random blood sugars or glucose tolerance test results of > or = to 200 mg/dl on one occasion.
  • A1C level greater than 6.5%

The following are recommended blood sugar target ranges for people with diabetes. If your levels regularly fall outside of these ranges, they may indicate a potential problem:

  • Fasting blood sugar levels of 70 to 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or 4.0 to 7.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)
  • Blood sugar levels 1 to 2 hours after eating: less than 180 mg/dL or 10 mmol/L
  • Hemoglobin A1C blood sugar levels below 7 percent

What Is Considered an Emergency If You Have Diabetes?

Extremely high or low blood sugar levels constitute a medical emergency. Either can lead to a diabetic coma and death. If you have diabetes and are experiencing a major spike or drop in glucose levels, call 911 or have someone take you to the nearest emergency medical facility. You will likely receive IV fluids and insulin. Once your condition is stabilized, you may be admitted to the hospital for observation and additional medical treatment. 

What Are the Risk Factors for Diabetic Emergencies?

Diabetes is associated with a number of serious health risks but very high or low blood sugar levels can be dangerous in and of themselves. Extreme cases of either hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can lead to a loss of consciousness, a comatose state, and death. 

If you have diabetes, you are at risk for a diabetic coma. The following factors can increase that risk: 

  • Insulin delivery problems. If your pump fails, it may not be delivering the insulin you need to control your condition. 
  • Stress, illness, trauma, or surgery. When you are ill, blood sugar levels rise. Your insulin dosage may need to rise in compensation. 
  • Poorly managed diabetes. If you have diabetes but are careless in managing it, you increase your chance of complications, including a diabetic coma.
  • Alcohol consumption. Alcoholic intake can mask low blood sugar, raising the possibility of a hypoglycemic coma.
  • Illegal drug use. Cocaine and other illegal substances can generate extreme spikes in blood sugar.

Diabetes Complications

Complications from diabetes can result in hospitalization. Hospital admission criteria will be based on the nature of the complication but awareness of the patient’s diabetes will also be a factor.

Baptist Health can assist you in setting and achieving goals through our diabetes program.