Diabetes – A Brief Overview

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is a complicated and chronic disease. This blog post will by no means do justice to the information now known and available about diabetes and the implications of this disease. Physicians, nurses and a host of other health care providers specialize in just diabetes and the care of the patient, so this will give you some idea of the complexity of diabetes and the knowledge needed to provide care. This article is just a very brief overview of what diabetes is, some of the common complications, management and care of the individual with diabetes.

I highly recommend if you have any questions or concerns regarding diabetes or your own health and how it may relate to diabetes, you seek the advice of your physician.

Diabetes is a very common disease, affecting over 1.7 million Canadians.


Breakdown by age and sex:

Ages 35-44 Males: 58,746 Females: 56,395
Ages 45-65 Males: 407,343 Females: 325,778
Age 65 and over Males: 436,444 Females: 355,372

Diabetes is characterized by hyperglycemia and presence of glucose (sugar) in the urine. The pancreas is scattered with hormone secreting cells called the “islets of langerhans”. These cells are responsible for secreting the hormone insulin.


There are two types of diabetes:

Type I (or juvenile onset) is caused by destruction of the beta cells and results in total lack of insulin secretion. These individuals must have daily insulin injections to manage their disease.

Type II (or maturity onset) is caused by a decreased tissue sensitivity to the effects of insulin. Large amount of insulin and required to control the blood sugar levels.

Some of the characteristics of these two types of diabetes are:

Usual age of onset: Type I – under 20 Type II – over 40
Development of symptoms: Type I – rapid Type II – slow
Percent of diabetics: Type I- about 10% Type II- about 90%
Association with Obesity: Type I – rare Type II – common
Insulin secretion: Type I – destroyed Type II – normal or increased
Usual treatment: Type I – injections Type II – diet and oral medications

Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes. Obesity decreases insulin sensititvity and exercise increases insulin sensitivity. Type II is slow to develop, is hereditary and occurs most often in overweight people. These people have normal or high levels of insulin in their blood.

overweight belly

Some symptoms of Type II Diabetes:

blurred vision
increased appetite
frequent or slow-healing infections
increased thirst
increased urination

The primary treatment for type II diabetes is diet and exercise. The immediate goal of treatment is to lower high blood sugar levels and the long term goals are to prevent diabetes related complications.

Complications from diabetes (both Type I and Type II):

blindness due to damage to the retina and lens of the eye
circulatory problems ( peripheral vascular disease) resulting in increased tendency to gangrene
increased risk of atherosclerosis
high blood pressure
kidney disease and kidney failure (diabetic nephropathy)
nerve damage causing pain and numbness in feet

If you have diabetes, your risk of heart attack is the same as someone who “has already” had a heart attack. Both men and women are at risk.

Nutrition and Diabetes:


This is too broad and complex a subject to deal with in a blog post. I recommend you contact Victoria Wellness’s recommended dieticians Dani Health for more in depth information.

Generally, people with type II diabetes should eat about the same time each day. Try to be consistent with type of foods you choose. The goal is to maintain a consistent blood sugar without highs and lows throughout the day. Meal planning including choosing healthy foods in the right amounts and eating at the right time.

If you have been diagnosed with either Type I or Type II diabetes, you should work closely with a Registered Dietician to develop a sound nutritional plan.

Exercise and diabetes:

Regular exercise is important for everyone, but especially if you have diabetes. Regular exercise lowers your blood sugar level and helps to burn excess calories and fat, so it is much easier to manage your weight. Exercise also improves blood flow and blood pressure – both areas that are severely affected by diabetes.


Managing your weight and eating a well balanced diet are critical in the management of diabetes. Some people with Type II diabetes may even be able to stop oral medications with a sound plan of exercise and nutrition.

Till next time,

Stats Canada
Nov 4, 2010

Concepts of Human Anatomy and Physiology
VanDeGraaf and Fox

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    2 Responses to “Diabetes – A Brief Overview”


    Narina – this is an excellent broad view look at this disease. I personally am in a high risk category (my brother and everyone on my father’s side has type 2). I am taking a preventative approach (I basically live like I have it) and hope it a: either reduces my chances of getting it or b: prolongs my time without it.

    I have heard children as young as 5 being diagnosed with Type 2 – an obvious and direct result of the North American diet gone horribly wrong.

    Thanks for the info. Sandy


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