Diabetes is a term that we have all heard. As a caregiver, it may be helpful to learn more about the illness affecting the person in your care. When the body’s ability to use or produce the hormone insulin is affected, it is referred to as diabetes mellitus. This article will provide simple descriptions for the most common types of diabetes mellitus.
First, we have provided a description of the physiology in someone without diabetes:
- We ingest glucose (or sugar) from various foods such as carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, rice, etc.), fruit, and many other sources. This increases the amount of glucose (or sugar) circulating in our bloodstream.
- The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen that makes a hormone called insulin. Insulin controls the glucose (or sugar) circulating around in our bloodstream by allowing it to leave the bloodstream and enter into the various cells in our body so that it can be used for energy or stored as fat. This decreases the amount of glucose (or sugar) circulating in our bloodstream.
Too much glucose (or sugar) circulating in the bloodstream is called hyperglycemia (or high blood sugar) and too little glucose (or sugar) circulating in the bloodstream is called hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar). Both of these conditions are very serious.
Click on the links below for more information about each type of diabetes.
The pancreas in someone with type 1 diabetes does not produce insulin. This is why insulin is prescribed to treat type 1 diabetes. There is also a less common form of type 1 diabetes called Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood (also known as LADA) which also affects the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin.
A person living with type 2 diabetes is not able to produce enough insulin (this is called insulin deficiency) and/or their body is not able to properly or efficiently use the insulin that their pancreas is able to produce (this is called insulin resistance).
Between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, women who do not already have a pre-existing diabetes diagnosis should be screened for gestational diabetes. If you are a woman who has previously been pregnant, you may recall this test as the one where you were asked to drink a juice-like drink and wait to have your blood tested. Women who experience gestational diabetes have a higher risk of eventually developing type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes is a condition where glucose (or sugar) levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Prediabetes should be taken as seriously as diabetes because someone with prediabetes is at risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes and the serious health complications that a person with diabetes is at risk for.
In addition to the most common forms of diabetes and prediabetes which are listed above, there are a number of other specific types of diabetes as well that are recognized by Diabetes Canada.
There are many serious health complications that can result from uncontrolled diabetes (regardless of the type of diabetes). It is important that diabetes is monitored by a health care provider and perhaps even a health care team of diabetes specialists including your doctor, dietitian, endocrinologist, diabetes educator, foot care specialist, optometrist, etc.
As a caregiver, you are also a very valuable member of the team caring for the person in your care. It is important that the person you’re caring for follows their personalized diabetes management plan that has been prescribed by their health care team and attends all appointments with health care providers.
The diabetes management plan is a great discussion to have with the person you are caring for. Ideally, you can approach this management as a team. Ask how you can best help. It may be scheduling appointments, picking up prescriptions, checking blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels, or something else that you can’t think of yourself. For more information about the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar and high blood sugar, the causes, and what to do, visit Diabetes Canada’s webpage on Lows & Highs: Blood Sugar Levels.
Please note that this article is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. All medications, including insulin, should be taken as prescribed. Consult with a health care professional if you have questions about your health or the health of the person in your care.