Whenever we eat, our pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that helps to break down sugar and complex carbs so they can be used as energy by the body. The pancreas of diabetes sufferers produces little to no insulin, so sugar starts to build up in the blood instead of being used by the body as energy. Over time this can lead to blindness, heart attack, stroke, stomach problems, and even nerve and kidney failure.
There are two types of the disease: Type 1, which is diagnosed in childhood and requires insulin shots, and Type II (called adult-onset diabetes; it's also the form of the disease that's on the rise).
Type I diabetes is genetically based, while Type II diabetes can be developed over time. Factors that put people at risk of Type II include a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, age, poor diet, family history of the disease, and poverty.
The symptoms of Type I diabetes are far more obvious than those of Type II. For starters, children with Type I tend to experience frequent urination, extreme thirst, unexplained weight loss, fatigue (even after sleeping for several hours), blurred vision, nausea, headaches, and irritability.
Those who develop Type II diabetes may experience a number of symptoms: weight gain, pain, cramping or tingling in the feet, frequent skin infections, slow-to-heal sores, or unusual tiredness.
In both cases, doctors will suggest a person change their lifestyle to cope with the disease. Increasing activity levels, eating a well-balanced diet, cutting back on cigarettes and alcohol, and stress reduction activities will usually play a part.
If altering lifestyle isn't enough, medication may come into play. This is especially true for those with Type I diabetes (they will be required, for their entire life, to take insulin shots at different periods of the day).
There are currently four classes of prescription drugs to treat Type II diabetes: Sulfonylureas, Biguanides, Alpha-glucose inhibitors, and Thiazolidinediones. Based on your health, your doctor will prescribe a medical treatment that's right for you.
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