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What Is Diabetes?

The importance of insulin

Diabetes is a disease in which your body either can't produce insulin or can't properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas.

Insulin's role is to regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Blood sugar must be carefully regulated to ensure that the body functions properly. Too much blood sugar can cause damage to organs, blood vessels, and nerves. Your body also needs insulin in order to use sugar for energy.

Eleven million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Chances are, diabetes affects you or someone you know.

Types of diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common diagnosis, followed by type 1 diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, and is usually temporary. In addition, prediabetes is another important diagnosis that indicates an elevated risk of developing diabetes.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes aren't able to produce their own insulin (and can't regulate their blood sugar) because their body is attacking the pancreas. Roughly 10 per cent of people living with diabetes have type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes generally develops in childhood or adolescence, but can also develop in adulthood. People with type 1 need to inject insulin or use an insulin pump to ensure their bodies have the right amount of insulin. 

Type 2

People with type 2 diabetes can't properly use the insulin made by their bodies, or their bodies aren't able to produce enough insulin. Roughly 90 per cent of people living with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is most commonly developed in adulthood, although it can also occur in childhood. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with healthy eating and regular exercise alone, but may also require medications or insulin therapy. 

If you think you or someone you know may have type 2 diabetes, please speak to a doctor or health-care provider.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Between three and 20 per cent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, depending on their risk factors. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes may increase the risk of developing diabetes later in life for both mother and child. 

Prediabetes

Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Although not everyone with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes, many people will.

It's important to know if you have prediabetes, because research has shown that some long-term complications associated with diabetes—such as heart disease—may begin during prediabetes. 

Potential complications of diabetes

Having high blood sugar can cause diabetes-related complications, like kidney disease, foot and leg problems, amputation, eye disease (retinopathy) that can lead to blindness, heart attack & stroke, anxiety, nerve damage, and erectile dysfunction.

Diabetes-related complications can be very serious and even life-threatening. Properly managing blood sugar levels reduces the risk of developing these complications.

Risks, Signs & Symptoms

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If you've recently been diagnosed or are currently living with diabetes, our diabetes toolkits can help you learn to manage your diabetes.

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