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What Is Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes?

Finding out you have diabetes is scary. But don't panic! Sure, diabetes is serious. But people with diabetes can live long, healthy, happy lives. You can, too, by taking good care of yourself.

The Sugar Connection

In diabetes, there's too much glucose in the blood. Glucose is a sugar that your cells use for fuel.

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 glucose levels may hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart.

Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes

There are two main kinds of diabetes. You have non-insulin-dependent diabetes. It is also called type II diabetes.

When you eat, your body turns your food into glucose. Glucose fuels the cells. In healthy people, a hormone called insulin helps the glucose get into the cells.

But in people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes, something goes wrong. Sometimes, a person does not make enough insulin. Sometimes, cells ignore the insulin.

Is It Curable?

In people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes, glucose builds up in the blood. But with good treatment, your glucose levels may go down to normal again.

Normal glucose levels do not mean you are cured. You will always have diabetes. Instead, normal glucose levels show that your treatment plan is working and that you are doing a good job of taking care of yourself.

Taking Care of Your Diabetes

The goal of treatment is to lower your glucose levels and improve your body's use of insulin with:

  • Good diet
  • Exercise
  • Weight loss

Good Diet. When you eat, your body changes food into glucose. Your blood glucose levels go up. A good diet dampens this rise. The best diet for a person with diabetes is like the best diet for anyone. Such a diet:

  • Is low in fat
  • Has only moderate amounts of protein
  • Is high in complex carbohydrates, like those in beans, vegetables, and grains (such as breads, cereals, noodles, and rice)

You and your dietitian will work out a meal plan just for you.

Exercise. Being active helps your cells take in glucose. It lowers glucose levels in your blood. So exercise plays a major role in your treatment.

Tell your doctor about the kinds of exercise you do now. Your doctor will help you fit them to your new lifestyle. If you don't exercise, your doctor will probably advise you to become more active.

It would be great if you could be active three or four times a week for at least 20 minutes each time. But if you're not used to exercise, start small. Even a 5-minute walk can get you moving.

Weight Loss. Losing weight is another big part of your diabetes treatment. It will help your body use insulin better.

The best way to lose weight is to exercise and adopt a healthy eating plan. If you merely diet - change your eating habits for only a short time - then you will regain the weight once you go back to your bad eating habits.

With a healthy eating plan, you take in fewer calories because you are filling up on good, healthful foods, not fatty foods. Decide with your doctor how much weight you should lose. Sometimes, just 10 or 20 pounds is enough to bring diabetes under control.

Then decide how much you want to lose per week. One or two pounds should be the maximum. Slow weight loss is healthier and easier.

Glucose Testing. You now know that eating a healthful diet, losing weight, and keeping fit help keep glucose levels normal. You can check your glucose levels at home to keep track of how you're doing.

To test your blood, you need a drop of blood from your finger. You place the drop on a special test strip. A device called a glucose meter tells how much glucose the drop of blood contains.

Your doctor will tell you how often to test your blood. Write down each result, along with the time and date. You will soon learn how well your treatment plan is working. And you will learn how exercise and food affect you.

A Back-Up Plan

Sometimes, healthful habits like eating well, losing weight, and exercising are not enough. In that case, your doctor may have you take:

  • Diabetes pills, or
  • Insulin shots

Diabetes Pills. There are two kinds of diabetes pills, sulfonylureas and biguanides (metformin).

Your doctor will tell you how many pills to take and how often. Taking pills does not replace healthful habits. You still should eat a good diet, or the pills won't work well.

Insulin Shots. Insulin helps your cells take in glucose. You then no longer have too much glucose in your blood.

Your doctor will try you on pills first. But sometimes pills don't work. Or they work at first and then stop. When this happens, your doctor may have you take both pills and insulin or maybe just insulin alone. Your doctor will tell you what kind of insulin to take, how much, and when.

What Can Go Wrong

Diabetes can cause three types of problems:

  • High blood glucose
  • Low blood glucose
  • Complications

High Blood Glucose. There are times your blood glucose levels may go way too high. High levels are most likely when you are sick or under a lot of stress.

When your glucose levels are too high, you may:

  • Have a headache
  • Have blurry vision
  • Be thirsty and need to go to the bathroom often
  • Have dry, itchy skin

High levels can cause two problems. First, your body may produce harmful chemicals called ketones. You should test your urine for ketones when:

  • You have some of the symptoms of high glucose levels (in that case, also test your glucose level)
  • Your glucose levels are over 240 mg/dL
  • You are sick

Call your doctor right away if your blood glucose is high and your urine has ketones.

Second, going to the bathroom so often can dehydrate you. Be sure to drink lots of water when you are sick or have high glucose levels.

Low Blood Glucose. Sometimes, your blood glucose levels can fall too low. Too-low levels are most likely if you take insulin or sulfonylurea pills. This is called hypoglycemia. It can be caused by:

  • Taking too much insulin
  • Eating too little or skipping eating
  • Exercising extra hard or long
  • Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach (without eating)

If your blood glucose is getting too low, you may feel:

  • Shaky
  • Tired
  • Hungry
  • Confused
  • Nervous

If you think your glucose is low, test it. Test also if you feel "odd" or "funny". If your glucose level is low, eat or drink something with 15 grams of sugars right away, such as:

  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice
  • 4 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 cup of skim milk

If you can't test your glucose right then, eat something with 15 grams of sugar, just to be safe.

Complications. Too-high levels of glucose in the blood over many years can hurt your organs. Diabetes can damage eyes, kidneys, and nerves. It also makes heart and blood vessel disease more likely.

The best defense against complications is taking good care of your diabetes. Keeping your glucose levels in control will make you feel better now. And it will help you stay healthy in the future.

American Diabetes Association
1660 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Click here to go the American Diabetes Association Website.
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