Diabetes or “diabetes mellitus,” is a chronic condition that keeps your body from properly processing the food you eat for use as energy. Generally, the food you eat is turned into sugar, or glucose, that your body needs.

The pancreas, an organ located near your stomach, makes a hormone called insulin, which helps glucose enter your body’s cells and controls the amount of glucose in your blood. Diabetes keeps your body either from producing enough insulin or from using its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugars to build up in your blood.

When your blood glucose levels are too high, the pancreas releases insulin to stimulate your cells and liver to absorb glucose. This brings your blood glucose levels back to normal.

Hemoglobin A1c (Hb A1c) is a test that provides an average of your blood glucose levels over a prior two- to four-month period. The result indicates how stable your blood glucose levels have been over time.

Blood glucose refers to the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy. When blood glucose is high, it is called “hyperglycemia.”

Prolonged high blood glucose levels can increase the buildup of fatty deposits on blood vessel walls, narrowing the walls and reducing blood flow. Over time, these deposits may harden or clog the vessels, resulting in cardiovascular disease. There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes:

  • 5% to 10% of people with diabetes have type 1.
  • It usually develops in childhood or adolescence.
  • The pancreas is damaged and cannot produce insulin.
  • Type 1 diabetes often requires lifelong insulin treatment.

Type 2 Diabetes:

  • 90% to 95% of people with diabetes have type 2, the most common form.
  • It usually affects adults.
  • The pancreas produces too little insulin or can’t use the insulin properly, which results in too much glucose building up in the blood.
  • It can be controlled through lifestyle changes and medications.

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM):

  • This type occurs during pregnancy from hormone changes and development of the fetus, which puts added demand on the body to produce sufficient insulin.
  • GDM increases the risk for type 2 diabetes later in life; 30% of women with GDM will develop type 2 diabetes within 15 years.
  • If appropriate steps are taken for control of blood glucose, a healthy delivery can be expected.
  • Being at risk for diabetes doesn’t mean you should avoid getting pregnant. 


“Pre-diabetes” is an important term to become familiar with. It is considered more of a phase of diabetes than a type. If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes by your doctor, this does not mean you have diabetes.

  • Pre-diabetes was once known as “borderline diabetes.”
  • It refers to blood glucose levels that are slightly out of range or higher than normal but not enough to be considered diabetes mellitus.
  • Pre-diabetes is strongly related to the risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Lifestyle changes prevent or reverse pre-diabetes.

Contrary to popular belief, eating too much sugar does not lead to diabetes. Everyone can benefit from cutting back on sugar, but the cause of diabetes is much more complicated than that: It’s a group of diseases with a range of causes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, the most severe type, is often first diagnosed in children and young adults. It is caused by a faulty immune response in which the immune system attacks part of its own pancreas. The cause is unknown. The immune system treats the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as invaders, attacking and destroying them, which makes type 1 diabetes an autoimmune disease.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, tends to occur after age 35, but more and more young people are developing the condition. With type 2 diabetes, the body still produces some of its own insulin, but it’s not enough. Abnormal insulin receptor cells in the body fail to respond to insulin and therefore glucose is unable to enter the cells. This is known as insulin resistance.


There may be no signs or symptoms with the onset of type 2 diabetes. However, possible symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight change (unexpected weight gain or loss)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Blurry vision
  • More frequent infections
  • Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling and/or numbness in hands or feet
  • Erectile difficulties

Talk with your doctor right away if you are experiencing any symptoms you believe could be associated with diabetes.


Having diabetes can lead to other health problems, especially if your condition is not properly managed or treated. These include the following:

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and Stroke

  • CVD and stroke occur three to five times more often in people with diabetes.
  • 80% of all people with diabetes will die of either CVD or stroke.
  • Having diabetes more than triples a woman’s risk of heart attack and greatly increases the chances a heart attack will be fatal. This is because women with diabetes are more likely to experience adverse changes that add to their risk for heart disease. They tend to have greater stores of belly fat and higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Also stacking the deck against women is the aging process. They lose estrogen, their natural protection against heart disease, at menopause.
  • Type 2 diabetes also leads to a greater risk for cardiovascular complications in women than in men and is a strong risk factor for heart failure. Women account for more than half of the cases of diabetes in the world.

Eye Problems

  • Cataracts and glaucoma occur more frequently in people with diabetes.
  • Diabetes threatens vision by damaging the retina.
  • It is the number one cause of blindness in Canadians.

Kidney Problems

  • Kidney disease is a serious and likely complication in people with long-term diabetes.

Nerve Damage

  • Nerve damage is a result of prolonged high blood glucose levels.
  • The primary sign of nerve damage is a tingling, numbing, or burning feeling in the hands, feet, arms, or legs. Amputation or loss of a limb may result.


  • Approximately 25% of people with diabetes will experience depression.