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Part I of II

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which the hormone insulin is not adequately produced or used by the body. Insulin is needed for cells to take up glucose after it is broken down from sugars, starches and other food that we eat. When working properly, this provides the fuel necessary for activities of daily living. While the exact cause is not completely understood, genetics is known to play a big role. However, environmental factors such as obesity and inactivity have also been found to play a large role.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 10.5% of the population in the United States or almost 34.2 million adults and children has diabetes. Unfortunately, one-third of these people are not aware that they have the disease.


A Fasting Plasma Glucose Test (FPG) or an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) can be used to screen a person for diabetes or pre-diabetes. Due to the fact that it is easier, quicker and cheaper, the FPG is the recommended test by the ADA. A FPG test results between 110 and 125 mg/dl indicates pre-diabetes. A FPG of 126 mg/dl or higher indicates diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the islet cells of the pancreas are destroyed and unable to produce insulin. Without insulin the cells of the body are unable to allow glucose (sugar) to enter the cells of the body and fuel them. Without the hormone insulin, the body is unable to convert glucose into energy needed for activities of daily living. According to the ADA, 5-10% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes has type 1. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

While type 1 diabetes is serious, each year more and more people are living long, healthy and happy lives. Some conditions that may be associated with type 1 diabetes are: hyperglycemia, ketoacidosis and celiac disease. Some things you will have to know: information about different types of insulin, different types of blood glucose meters, different types of diagnostic tests, managing your blood glucose, regular eye examinations, and tests to monitor your kidney function, regular vascular and foot exams.


While symptoms may vary for each patient, people with type 1 diabetes often have increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss and extreme tiredness.


Type 1 diabetes increases your risk for other serious problems. Some examples are: heart disease, blindness, nerve damage, amputations and kidney damage. The best way to minimize your risk of complications from type 1diabetes is to take good care of your body. Get regular checkups from your eye doctor for early vision problems, dentist, for early dental problems, podiatrist to prevent foot wounds and ulcers. Exercise regularly, keep your weight down. Do not smoke or drink excessively.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes as most Americans are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It occurs when the body fails to use insulin properly and eventually it fails to produce an adequate amount of insulin. When sugar, the primary source of energy in the body is not able to be broken down and transported in the cells for energy, it builds up in the blood. There it can immediately starve cells of energy and cause weakness. Also, over time it can damage eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart from abnormalities in cholesterol, blood pressure and an increase in clotting of blood vessels.

Like type 1, even though the problems with type 2 are scary, most people with type 2 diabetes live long, healthy, and happy lives. While people of all ages and races can get diabetes, some groups are at higher risk for type 2. For example, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and the aged are at greater risk. Conditions and complications are the same as those for type 1 diabetes.


People with type 2 diabetes experience symptoms that are more vague and gradual in onset than with type 1 diabetes. Type 2 symptoms include feeling tired or ill, increased thirst and urination, weight loss, poor vision, frequent infections and slow wound healing.

**This column is based on information from local physicians Kenneth Rudolph, MD, Gregory Borowski, MD and the American Diabetes Association and Harvard Health Publications

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”   This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

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