What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which your body cannot properly store and use fuel for energy. The fuel that your body needs is called glucose. Glucose comes from foods such as breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and some vegetables. To use glucose, your body needs insulin. Insulin is made by a gland in your body called the pancreas.

You have diabetes because either:
  1. Your body makes too little or no insulin.
    This is called type 1 diabetes; or
  2. Your body can't use the insulin it makes.
    This is called type 2 diabetes.
  • With little or no insulin, glucose builds up in your blood instead of being used for energy. This causes high blood glucose levels.

Types of diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer produces any insulin. Insulin injections are required. The body needs insulin to use glucose for energy. Approximately 10 per cent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not effectively use the insulin that is produced. Ninety per cent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. It affects approximately 3.5 per cent of all pregnancies and involves an increased risk of developing diabetes for both mother and child in the future.

How common is diabetes?

Diabetes is one of the fastest growing chronic diseases and is reaching epidemic proportions.

  • Over two million Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetes and it is estimated that another million people have diabetes, but have not been diagnosed.
  • In the RQHR in 2006/07, 16,851 people were living with diabetes. That number is now estimated at over 20,000 (in 2010/11).
  • In the RQHR, First Nations and Métis people are 3 to 4 times more likely to have diabetes than the non-First Nations population. For more information, see our Diabetes in First Nations and Métis People page.

Is diabetes serious?

If left untreated or improperly managed, diabetes can result in a variety of complications, including:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye disease and blindness
  • Problems with erection (impotence)
  • Nerve damage, foot ulcers and amputations

There is good news though.

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, by keeping your blood glucose levels in a target range determined by your doctor, you can reduce your risk of complications and live a long and healthy life.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?

Signs and symptoms of diabetes include the following:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight change (gain or loss)
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Trouble getting or maintaining an erection

It is important to recognize, however, that many people who have type 2 diabetes may show no symptoms.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Your doctor can test you for diabetes using one of the following tests. The amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood is measured in mmol/L.

To test for diabetes your doctor will do blood tests. In some cases you may be given a sweetened drink prior to the blood test. A fasting blood test (nothing to eat or drink for at least 8 hours) of more than 7 mmol/L indicates diabetes. If the blood test is not a fasting test a test result of greater than 11 mmol/L combined with symptoms indicates diabetes.

A second test is usually done to confirm the diagnosis, except if you have acute signs and symptoms.

How is diabetes treated?

Today, more than ever before, people with diabetes can expect to live active, independent and vital lives if they make a lifelong commitment to careful diabetes management.

Diabetes is managed in the following ways:

Education: Diabetes education is an important first step. All people with diabetes need to learn about their condition in order to make healthy lifestyle choices and manage their diabetes.

Physical Activity: Regular physical activity helps your body lower blood glucose levels, promotes weight loss, reduces stress and enhances overall health.

Nutrition: What, when and how much you eat all play an important role in regulating how well you body manages blood glucose levels.

Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important in the management of type 2 diabetes.

Medication: Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin. Type 2 diabetes is managed through physical activity and meal planning and may require medications and/or insulin to assist your body in making or using insulin more effectively.

Lifestyle Management: Learning to reduce stress levels in day-to-day life can help people with diabetes better manage their disease.

Blood Pressure: High blood pressure can lead to eye disease, stroke and kidney disease, so people with diabetes should try to maintain a blood pressure at or below 130/80. To do this you may need to change your eating and physical activity habits and/or take medication.

For more information about diabetes, visit the Canadian Diabetes Association website:


Canadian Diabetes Association
South Saskatchewan Regional Office
917A Albert Street
Regina, SK S4R 2P6
Phone: 1-800-297-7488 or (306) 584-8445

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