Diabetes is a chronic disease that impairs the body’s ability to use food properly. Normally, glucose, a form of sugar produced when starches and sugar are digested, is burned as fuel to supply the body with energy. This process, turning food into energy, is called metabolism.

In order to metabolize glucose properly, the body requires another substance: insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Its job is to regulate the body’s use of glucose. Insulin is essential to the metabolic process. Trying to burn glucose without insulin is like trying to set fire to a pile of logs without a match. It can’t be done. People with Diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin to properly metabolize glucose or the insulin they have works inefficiently. Without insulin to turn glucose into energy, the glucose piles up in the bloodstream and spills into the urine, showing as “sugar in the urine”. High levels of sugar in the blood and urine are the hallmarks of untreated diabetes.

While there is currently no cure for diabetes, it can be controlled. The main goal of diabetes treatment is to control blood sugar levels and keep them in the normal range. The specific kind of treatment used to control blood sugars depends on the specific type of diabetes a person has.

Types of Diabetes

Type I Diabetes (insulin dependent or juvenile)

In this form of Diabetes, a person’s pancreas produces little or no insulin. Although the causes for this are not entirely known, scientists believe that the body’s own defense system (the immune system) attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As insulin is necessary for life, people with Type I Diabetes must take one or more injections of insulin every day in order to metabolize their food. Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, people would fall into a diabetic coma and die, usually within a few weeks of onset.

This form of Diabetes used to be known as “juvenile diabetes” because it usually appears in children or young adults.

Type II Diabetes (non-insulin dependent or adult-onset)

In this form of diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but for some reason, the body is not able to use it effectively. So, in spite of the presence of adequate amounts of insulin, blood glucose levels are not normal. Fortunately, Type II Diabetes can be treated in a variety of ways including weight loss, proper diet, reduced sugar intake and exercise. More severe cases may be treated with oral drugs or insulin injections.

Type II, which is also known as “adult-onset diabetes” occurs most often in people over 40.

Symptoms of Diabetes

One or more of these symptoms on a recurring basis, indicate a need to consult a doctor.

Type II -These symptoms usually occur gradually:

  • Any of the symptoms for Type I
  • Recurring or hard-to-heal-skin, gum or urinary tract infections
  • Drowsiness
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Itching skin and genitals

Who is at Risk for Diabetes?

Nearly 1 in every 20 North Americans had diabetes. Out of about 6 million diagnosed with diabetes, 1 million are Type I and 5 million are Type II. Another 5 million are Type II and have not yet been diagnosed.
High-risk categories include the following:

  • People with diabetic relatives; an inherited genetic tendency seems to prevail.
  • People who are overweight: excess weight increases susceptibility.
  • People over 40: Type II Diabetes is prevalent after 40

Treatment of Diabetes

Treatment of diabetes aims to do what a normal body does naturally, ie. maintain a proper balance of insulin and glucose.


  • Complications from diabetes include blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, gangrene, amputation of feet and toes, heart disease and stroke.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new adult blindness among 20 –74 hears of age.
  • About 60 to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe nerve damage.
  • People with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to have heart and vascular disease than people without diabetes.
  • Gangrene, due to diabetic complications, is the leading cause for amputation of the lower extremities.
  • One third of all dialysis patients have diabetes-caused kidney failure and the death rate from kidney disease is 500 times higher in young adults with diabetes.
  • The death rate among infants born to mothers with diabetes is 203 times as high as for women without diabetes.
  • With its complications, Diabetes is the leading cause of death by disease in North America. Diabetes is a chromic, complicated and destructive disease.

Diabetes and the Workplace

  • Diabetes and its complications costs the Canadian economy more than $3 billion each year in health care, absenteeism and lost productivity.
  • People with diabetes have an absenteeism rate 2 to 3 times higher than the general population.
  • Approximately 72% of those with juvenile diabetes are in the workplace.
  • Approximately 58% of those with mature onset diabetes are in the workplace.

Hope for the Future

There is increasing hope that diabetes and its problems can be cured. Significant progress has been made. Funding has been involved in all of these areas:

  • Transplanting insulin-producing cells and pancreases into human subjects
  • Understanding how the body’s own immune system destroys insulin-producing cells
  • Identifying the genes involved in diabetes to define who is at risk
  • Establishing how viruses may work as a “trigger” mechanism on diabetes
  • Improving laser techniques to treat eye problems
  • Developing insulin pumps and other experimental insulin-delivery systems
  • Developing new ways to monitor blood glucose
  • Developing drugs that may reduce diabetic complications

Source: This information was made available through the Canadian Diabetes Association.