Dorchester County Health Department

3 Cedar Street | Cambridge, MD 21613 | 410-228-3223; Fax 410-228-9319 | Monday - Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm



Human cell and blood sugar

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of conditions that interferes with how the body uses glucose - a form of sugar – for energy. In diabetes, glucose cannot get into the cells. Normally, the pancreas [an organ in the body] makes a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps glucose get inside the cells.

In a person with diabetes , the pancreas either:

  • does not make enough insulin [Type 1 diabetes]
  • makes insulin, but the cells don’t use it well. [Type 2 diabetes].

In both types of diabetes, glucose builds up in the blood because it cannot get into the cells.

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Who gets diabetes?

You may be at higher risk for diabetes if you:

  • have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
  • are overweight
  • lead an inactive lifestyle
  • have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • are African American, Hispanic American, Native American, Pacific Islander or Asian American.

The causes of type 2 diabetes are unknown, but it may run in families and some people may inherit it.

Early detection is important! About 1 in 20 Americans has diabetes. Many don’t even know it!

If diabetes is left untreated, it can cause life-threatening health problems. These can include:

counseling someone with diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke [brain attack]
  • poor circulation which can lead to amputations
  • foot problems
  • eye problems
  • nerve damage
  • kidney disease
  • diabetic coma

Get tested – it’s easy! Take this simple test from the American Diabetes Association to see if you are at risk for having diabetes.

Your health-care provider can use simple blood tests to check for diabetes.

  • If you are 45 or older, get a blood test every 3 years.
  • If you are at higher risk, get tested sooner and more often.
  • If you think your child may be at risk for diabetes, ask your child’s health-care provider about getting him or her tested.

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Symptoms of diabetes

Symptoms for each type of diabetes are similar – but they may follow different patterns.

Type 1 diabetes often appears suddenly. Symptoms may include:

  • constant thirst
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • extreme hunger
  • rapid weight loss
  • nausea or vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • lack of energy

Untreated, Type 1 diabetes can lead to coma.

Type 2 appears gradually. Many people have no clear symptoms. If present, symptoms may include any type 1 symptom. Other symptoms may include:

  • frequent infections
  • dry, itchy skin
  • numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • slow-healing wounds
  • tiredness

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Diabetes can be managed

You can usually lower high blood glucose by balancing meals, physical activity, and weight control. Sometimes, medication is also needed.

  • Diet: Your health-care provider and a dietitian may give you a special meal plan to keep blood glucose levels steady.
  • Physical Activity: Regular physical activity lowers blood glucose – and helps ensure good physical and mental health. Consult you health-care provider before beginning an exercise program.
  • Weight control: Weight loss alone may bring blood glucose back to normal – especially in type 2 Diabetes. Talk to a health-care provider before changing your diet or beginning a weight control plan.
  • Medications: Insulin is always prescribed for type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, insulin and/or diabetes pills can also lower blood glucose.
  • Monitoring your blood glucose: Testing and equipment methods vary. Frequent monitoring helps you and your health-care provider see how treatment is working.

You and your health-care provider can work together to control diabetes and avoid complications.

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For more information, contact the following Diabetes resources:

American Association of Diabetes Educators

American Dietetic Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive & Kidney Diseases

American Diabetes Association

American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


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