What is diabetes?

The main feature of diabetes is high blood sugar levels. Our body needs glucose or sugar to function. This sugar is supplied by the food we eat. As food breaks down in to sugar, it is converted to energy by the body. An important part in this food-to-energy conversion is insulin. In diabetes, our body’s ability to either produce or use insulin is affected. This leads to sugar being accumulated in the blood – a condition we commonly call as “high blood sugar”.

Constant high blood sugar levels can damage almost all the organs of our body.


There are two main types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes: When our body is unable to produce enough insulin to meet its requirements. It is generally detected during childhood.

Type 2 diabetes: When our body is unable to utilize the insulin being secreted by the pancreas. It is generally found in adults with excess weight, unhealthy lifestyles, or those with family history of diabetes.


Symptoms of diabetes

Learn to recognize these symptoms and contact your doctor if you notice any. Some common symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Urinating frequently
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry
  • Feeling very tired most of the time
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts/bruises that take very long to heal
  • Weight loss
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet


Common diagnostic tests

Blood sugar testing: Blood sugar levels are mostly tested at three times:

  • Fasting: Before having any food, mostly early in the morning before eating
  • Post-prandial: After a meal
  • Random: Any time, irrespective of food intake

Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): For this test, your blood sugar will be tested while fasting and 2 hours after drinking   250 ml water in which 75 g glucose is dissolved. According to the Indian Diabetes guidelines, diabetes can be diagnosed if,

  • Random blood sugar ≥ 200 mg/dL
  • Fasting blood sugar ≥ 126 mg/dL
  • OGTT ≥ 200 mg/dL

Glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) test: This blood test is done to measure the percentage of blood sugar attached to the haemoglobin in your blood. Checking this can give you an average value of your blood sugar levels over 2-3 months. HbA1c of 6.5 or higher can indicate diabetes. People with diabetes are recommended to aim for HbA1c of 7.


Complications of diabetes:

Constant high blood sugar levels can cause severe complications. Some of the major diabetes complications are:

  • Cardiovascular disease or heart disease: High blood sugar levels damage blood vessels of the body. People with diabetes are at a high risk of high cholesterol levels, hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis), coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.
  • Diabetic neuropathy: Neuropathy occurs because excess sugar molecules injure blood vessels which supply blood to nerves. This leads to nerve damage. Damaged nerves cause symptoms like tingling, burning sensations, or numbness in your fingers and toes.
  • Diabetic nephropathy: Uncontrolled blood sugar damages the kidneys too. In severe cases, the patient might require kidney transplant or dialysis.
  • Eye damage: High blood sugar increases risk of cataracts, glaucoma and even blindness as it damages the retina of the eye.
  • Diabetic foot: In diabetes, even small cuts or bruises take time to heal; giving scope for infections to crop up. As nerve damage leads to loss of sensation in the feet, people with diabetes may not notice these wounds initially. If infections become severe, the patient can even require amputation of the foot.


Basics of diabetes management:

Two things are key for managing diabetes – diet and exercise.

Diet: As diabetes causes problems with the conversion of sugar to energy, one of the key ways of treating diabetes is to consume less sugar. Sugar is present in carbohydrate containing foods like breads, chapattis, rice, biscuits, fruits, etc. However, you should not completely stop carbohydrates as they are the most important source of energy for our body. Wholegrain carbohydrates like brown rice contain essential vitamins and minerals required for proper functioning of the entire body.

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, so intake of fats should also be controlled. In short, a healthy, low-carb and low-fat diet is ideal for those with diabetes.

Exercise: Your body requires energy when exercising. When you exercise, sugar moves into your cells and is converted to energy. Hence, exercise reduces your blood sugar levels. Regular exercise can also make your body more responsive to insulin. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day!