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Overview and Facts
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.
There are 23.6 million children and adults in the United States, or 7.8% of the population, who have diabetes.
In order to determine whether or not a patient has pre-diabetes or diabetes, health care providers conduct a Fasting Plasma Glucose Test (FPG) or an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). Either test can be used to diagnose pre-diabetes or diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends the FPG because it is easier, faster, and less expensive to perform.
With the FPG test, a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl signals pre-diabetes. A person with a fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dl or higher has diabetes.
In the OGTT test, a person’s blood glucose level is measured after a fast and two hours after drinking a glucose-rich beverage. If the two-hour blood glucose level is between 140 and 199 mg/dl, the person tested has pre-diabetes. If the two-hour blood glucose level is at 200 mg/dl or higher, the person tested has diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems:
- Right away, your cells may be starved for energy.
- Over time, high blood glucose levels may hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.
Finding out you have diabetes is scary. But don’t panic. Type 2 diabetes is serious, but people with diabetes can live long, healthy, happy lives.
While diabetes occurs in people of all ages and races, some groups have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, as well as the aged population.
Symptoms and Types
Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless. Recent studies indicate that the early detection of diabetes symptoms and treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes.
Some diabetes symptoms include:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unusual weight loss
- Increased fatigue
- Blurry vision
If you have one or more of these diabetes symptoms, see your doctor right away. You can also take our Online Diabetes Risk Test to find out if you are at risk for diabetes.
Major Types of Diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes
Results from the body’s failure to produce insulin, the hormone that “unlocks” the cells of the body, allowing glucose to enter and fuel them. It is estimated that 5-10% of Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes
Results from insulin resistance (a condition in which the body fails to properly use insulin), combined with relative insulin deficiency. Most Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes
Immediately after pregnancy, 5% to 10% of women with gestational diabetes are found to have diabetes, usually, type 2.
Pre-diabetes is a condition that occurs when a person’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. There are 57 million Americans who have pre-diabetes, in addition to the 23.6 million with diabetes.
You or someone you love has just been diagnosed with diabetes — chances are you have a million questions running through your head. This area of our Web site can help ease your fears and teach you more about living with diabetes or caring for someone with diabetes, and connect you with others affected by diabetes who will listen and share their own experiences.
If you or someone you care for has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you are no doubt experiencing a range of emotions. Fear, anger, denial, frustration, depression and uncertainty are just a few of them, and are very common. You are not alone. This area of our Web site can help ease your Finding out you or someone you love has diabetes is scary. But don’t panic. Diabetes is serious, but people with diabetes can live long, healthy, happy lives. The links below will direct you to basic information, expert advice and peer support.
Straight Answers About Type II Diabetes
Find answers to common basic concerns associated with being recently diagnosed, and learn about diabetes conditions, treatments and complications by following the links below:
- Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.
Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have “pre-diabetes” — blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
- Diabetes Myths
Find the truth about some of the most common myths about diabetes.
- Common Concerns
This section addresses various areas to help you live with type 2 diabetes. What do you do when you’re sick? What do you do when you travel? Can you get a flu shot with diabetes? How do you cope with having type 2 diabetes? Are you being discriminated against because you have diabetes? You’ll find answers to these questions, and more in this section.
Treatment and Care
Managing your blood glucose
Keeping your blood sugar as close to normal as possible helps you feel better and reduces the risk of long-term complications of diabetes.
- Checking Your Blood Glucose
People with diabetes work to keep their blood sugar as near to normal as possible. Keeping your blood sugar in your target range can help prevent or delay the start of diabetes complications such as nerve, eye, kidney, and blood vessel damage.
- Tight Diabetes Control
Keeping your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible can be a lifesaver. Tight control means getting as close to a normal (nondiabetic) blood glucose level as you safely can.
- A1C Test
An A1C test gives you a picture of your average blood sugar control for the past 2 to 3 months. The results give you a good idea of how well your diabetes treatment plan is working.
Living Your Life
Life with Type 2 diabetes can as enjoyable and full as life without it. The keys to living with diabetes include the proper medication and medical treatments, eating the right foods, getting the proper type and amount of exercise and managing stress.
Careful management of type 2 diabetes can reduce your risk of serious — even life-threatening — complications. Consider these tips:
- Make a commitment to managing your diabetes. Learn all you can about type 2 diabetes. Make healthy eating and physical activity part of your daily routine. Establish a relationship with a diabetes educator, and ask your diabetes treatment team for help when you need it.
- Identify yourself. Wear a tag or bracelet that says you have diabetes. Keep a glucagon kit nearby in case of a low blood sugar emergency — and make sure your friends and loved ones know how to use it.
- Schedule a yearly physical exam and regular eye exams. Your regular diabetes checkups aren’t meant to replace yearly physicals or routine eye exams. During the physical, your doctor will look for any diabetes-related complications, as well as screen for other medical problems. Your eye care specialist will check for signs of retinal damage, cataracts and glaucoma.
- Keep your immunizations up to date. High blood sugar can weaken your immune system. Get a flu shot every year, and get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years. Your doctor will also likely recommend the pneumonia vaccine.
- Take care of your teeth. Diabetes may leave you prone to gum infections. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss your teeth once a day, and schedule dental exams at least twice a year. Consult your dentist right away if your gums bleed or look red or swollen.
- Pay attention to your feet. Wash your feet daily in lukewarm water. Dry them gently, especially between the toes, and moisturize with lotion. Check your feet every day for blisters, cuts, sores, redness or swelling. Consult your doctor if you have a sore or other foot problem that isn’t healing.
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly can go a long way toward controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol. Medication may be needed, too.
- If you smoke or use other types of tobacco, ask your doctor to help you quit. Smoking increases your risk of various diabetes complications, including heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and kidney disease. In fact, smokers who have diabetes are three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than are nonsmokers who have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Talk to your doctor about ways to stop smoking or to stop using other types of tobacco.
- If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Alcohol, as well as drink mixers, can cause either high or low blood sugar, depending on how much you drink and if you eat at the same time. If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation and always with a meal. The recommendation for women is no more than one drink daily, and for men, no more than two drinks daily.
- Take stress seriously. If you’re stressed, it’s easy to abandon your usual diabetes management routine. The hormones your body may produce in response to prolonged stress may prevent insulin from working properly, which only makes matters worse. To take control, set limits. Prioritize your tasks. Learn relaxation techniques. Get plenty of sleep.
Above all, stay positive. Diabetes is a serious disease, but it can be controlled. If you’re willing to do your part, you can enjoy an active, healthy life with type 2 diabetes.