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Everything to Know About Diabetes

gloved hands drawing insulin shot

Diabetes Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and More

By Samantha Clark, senior wellness coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 10/30/2020 at 8:30 a.m.

Diabetes is a common, chronic condition that affects millions of people in the United States every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34.2 million people have diabetes, which is about one out of every ten people.

Unfortunately, out of those, one in five people don’t know they have diabetes, making the risk of complication high.

The numbers are even higher for prediabetes. There are roughly 88 million people who are considered prediabetic, which is one in three people nationwide. More than eight out of every ten people in this group don’t know that they are considered prediabetic.

What is diabetes?

The Mayo Clinic describes diabetes in the following detail.

[Diabetes is] a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is the main type of sugar in the blood and is the key source of energy for the body’s cells.

Glucose comes from the foods we eat. The body also can manufacture glucose for energy. Glucose is carried to the cells through the bloodstream. Several hormones, including insulin, regulate glucose levels in the blood.

Glucose is vital to your health because it is an important source of energy for the cells that make up your body’s muscles and tissues.

Chronic diabetes conditions include Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetes conditions include gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy and prediabetes when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

Glucose is measured in a few ways, including using a different blood test to determine if you have diabetes.

What are normal, elevated and diabetic blood glucose levels?

The first test involves having your fasting glucose measured. For this test, you need to fast between 10-12 hours. Your blood is drawn and the glucose level is tested. Between 70 mg/dL and 99 mg/dL is the normal range.

If your glucose is between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL, it is considered elevated and could likely be the precursor to prediabetes. ‘

If your labs come back and your glucose is 126 mg/dL or higher, you would be on the path to diabetes. To diagnose a patient with diabetes, a doctor needs to see a reading of 126 mg/dL on two separate tests.

What are the different types of diabetes?

Diabetes isn’t a single disorder. There are four functional types with different causes, lifestyle considerations and ranges of severity.

Type 1 diabetes

Due to often being diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults, this form of diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body does not make enough insulin. If you are a Type 1 diabetic, you will need to take insulin every day to survive. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented or reversed, only managed. With proper management, millions of Americans live long and healthy lives with this condition.

Type 2 diabetes

Also known as adult-onset diabetes, Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body does not effectively use the insulin it is making. This poor usage then causes your body to not keep your blood sugar levels normal. This type of diabetes accounts for 90-95 percent of diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes. Additionally, many symptoms can be minimized or reversed with such lifestyle changes.

Gestational diabetes

This form of diabetes happens in pregnant women who have never been diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes before.

The Mayo Clinic states that the “placenta produces hormones to sustain the pregnancy. These hormones make your cells more resistant to insulin. Normally, your pancreas responds by producing enough extra insulin to overcome this resistance. But sometimes your pancreas can’t keep up. When this happens, too little glucose gets into your cells and too much stays in your blood.”

Gestational diabetes typically subsides after you have your baby. You are more likely, however, to suffer from this type of diabetes in future pregnancies.


This form is not considered diabetes, since your blood sugar is not high enough. Without lifestyle changes, however, prediabetes can very quickly turn into Type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that comes with an expansive list of symptoms. The severity of these symptoms depends on how high your blood sugar is. The higher your body’s blood sugar, the more severe the symptoms.

According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some of the symptoms shared by both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Presence of ketones in the urine (ketones are a byproduct of the breakdown of muscle and fat that happens when there’s not enough available insulin)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections, such as gums or skin infections

With gestational diabetes and prediabetes, there are typically few symptoms. Therefore, it is so important to have your blood glucose tested to ensure that you are within a healthy range for your blood sugars.

What are the risk factors for diabetes?

There are different risk factors for each type of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes risk factors

Family history and environmental factors make up the most significant risk factors for Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes risk factors

Being overweight (BMI of 30 or higher), a family history of diabetes, being physically inactive and being 45 years or older make up the most notable risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes risk factors

Pregnancy is a requirement of gestational diabetes. The risk, however, can increase with factors like age (25+ years old), family or personal history, weight (BMI of 30 or higher) and race.

Prediabetes risk factors

Being overweight (BMI of 30 or higher), family history, race and ethnicity, being physically inactive and previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes are some of the common risk factors for prediabetes.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

There are a few ways to be tested to determine if you are diabetic or if you have prediabetes. Keep in mind, blood tests are often designed by when they’re tested. For instance, a normal fasting glucose level would be between 70 mg/dL and 99 mg/dL. Two hours after a meal, however, that number could be as high as 139 mg/dL.

Health complications for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes

There are many different types of health conditions that can stem from having uncontrolled diabetes.

Diabetic blindness

If vision issues are left untreated (and you are a diabetic), you have a higher chance of going blind than others without diabetes. Diabetics could develop what’s called diabetic retinopathy. Symptoms include blurred vision, difficulty seeing colors and seeing floaters. This is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.

Diabetic kidney failure

Diabetes can cause blood vessels in your body to become damaged. When this happens, your kidneys cannot clean your blood properly causing swelling and weight gain due to salt and water retention. Diabetes can also damage the nerves in your body resulting in issues with emptying your bladder. When the bladder can’t empty, it can injure the kidneys. The urine can also sit in your bladder for long periods of time, causing infections, and also causing urine to have a high sugar level.

Heart disease and stroke

When a person has diabetes, they typically have other conditions or risk factors that can increase their risk of heart disease, like high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Another factor that plays a role in the link between diabetes and heart disease is the damage to a person’s nerves controlling the heart and blood vessels. To lower your risk for heart disease, you need to first focus on controlling your blood sugar levels.

Loss of limbs or appendages

Poor blood flow and/or nerve damage in a person’s feet can increase the chance of foot complications. When a diabetic gets cuts and blisters, they can develop serious infections that could lead to amputation. The most common limbs or appendages that may be amputated due to complications of diabetes include toes, feet and/or legs. Diabetics who do not control their diabetes may also suffer from neuropathy, which is weakness, numbness and/or pain resulting from nerve damage in your body.

Health complications for gestational diabetes

With gestational diabetes, there are complication considerations for both the mother and the unborn child.

Complications for the mother include preeclampsia, which is the development of high blood pressure, marked by edema in the legs and feet and excess protein in the urine.

Complications for the child include excess growth. This is caused by extra glucose from the mother that crosses into the placenta, which then causes the child’s pancreas to increase the amount of insulin it needs to make. When this happens, the child could grow too large and may require the mother to have a c-section for delivery.

A baby with gestational diabetes can also develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) after birth and could possibly develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. Unfortunately, infant death is a potential complication of untreated gestational diabetes is infant death.

Preventing diabetes

There are ways to prevent diabetes. If overweight, losing weight will help reduce the risk of diabetes or significant complications from it. Even a 5-7 percent weight loss can drastically help lower your overall blood glucose numbers.

Eating healthy can also help. Watching portion sizes and eating a wide variety of healthy foods can help your numbers decrease.

Finally, becoming more active can fight off diabetes. Studies have shown that 150 minutes a week of moderate activity can help lower your risk of developing diabetes.

Network Health wellness programs

If you’re a member of Network Health, you have access to health and wellness programs specifically designed to help you avoid developing diabetes or reduce the negative effects if they are diabetic.

Prevent T2 – A diabetes prevention program from Network Health

In 2019, Network Health started offering a diabetes prevention program called Prevent T2. This program was developed by the CDC to help tackle the high rates of prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes in the United States.

This evidence-based and cost-effective intervention program helps to delay or prevent people from developing Type 2 diabetes. Eating healthy and increasing activity are the central focuses of the program.

Research shows when a person who was diagnosed with prediabetes completes the program, they can cut their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. That number goes up to 71 percent for people over 60 years old.

A year-long commitment Prevent T2 works with participants to help them lose five to seven percent of their starting body weight and work up to 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This class is typically held onsite at Network Health, however, due to the coronavirus, our current class is being held virtually.

Our first class that completed the program lost over 221 lbs. As a group, that was 8.8 percent of their starting body weight. They attended all the classes that were offered within the year, did weekly weigh-ins and increased their physical activity to 150 minutes or more a week.

Do you know if you are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes? Take the risk test now by clicking here.

Network Health’s Health Coaching Program

The health coaches at Network Health specialize in motivation and encouragement to help you meet your personal health goals. If you choose to participate, you will speak one-on-one with a coach who can help you identify and overcome health obstacles and improve lifestyle habits. They can help with the following topics relating to prediabetes:

  • Blood sugar (prediabetes)
  • Nutrition
  • Weight management
  • Tobacco use
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood cholesterol
  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Alcohol consumption

All sessions are conducted over the telephone.

Network Health’s Condition Management Program

Our condition management team empowers you to take charge of your chronic condition and be the healthiest you can be. Our skilled team of registered nurses teaches you about ongoing care, provide educational resources for self-management and help you build connections to community programs.

We encourage you to participate in the condition management program if you are living with any of the following.

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke or heart failure

All sessions are conducted over the telephone.

Healthy Living with Diabetes

This six-week workshop helps people with Type 2 diabetes manage their condition.

Healthy Living with Diabetes is a proven program to improve health and well-being for people with diabetes. Learn and share with others. It is designed especially for adult learners.

Offered in English and Spanish around Wisconsin, this course is a high-level evidence-based workshop for people who have diabetes. 

Developed at Stanford University, the workshop meets for 2 ½ hours once a week for six weeks. This community-based program offers tools and resources to enhance your understanding of what it means to have diabetes.

Group support helps you build the confidence to manage your diabetes and maintain an active and fulfilling life. Each week has various topics related to mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Gain knowledge, share your experience, practice new skills and help others.

The workshop is led by two trained leaders from the Aging, Disability and Resource Center (ADRC), one or both of whom have diabetes themselves. This makes the program education as practical as it is informative. During this course, you’ll learn the following.

  • Techniques for dealing with symptoms, fatigue, pain, hyper/hypoglycemia, stress and emotional problems such as depression, anger, fear and frustration
  • Appropriate exercises to help improve or maintain your strength and endurance
  • Healthy eating choices and habits
  • Appropriate use of medication
  • How to work more effectively with health care providers

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these specific programs, email [email protected] to learn more. Please reference the program you’re curious about in the subject line.

Diabetes presents challenges. Thankfully, resources are abundant.

Managing your diabetes means new challenges, but it is far from impossible.

Work with a health care professional, whether it is your personal doctor, a dietician/nutritionist or an endocrinologist. These people can help you manage and control your blood sugar numbers, ensuring you’re able to live a long and healthy life with diabetes or avoid it if you are in the prediabetes category.

Finally, eating healthy and staying active will always go a long way toward helping you manage your diabetes. Before you start any physical activity or make any changes with your diet, however, consult your personal doctor as everybody is different and these changes should factor in your unique physiology, medical history and preferences.

To learn more about how your Network Health plan can help you enjoy your best life with diabetes, please reach out to us today.

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