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Skip Navigation Linksdiabetes-the-bodys-inept-use-of-insulin Diabetes – The Body’s Inept Use of Insulin

“The longing for sweets is really a yearning for love or ‘sweetness’.” ― Marion Woodman

If taking care of blood sugar was as simple as falling in love…

Blood glucose, or blood sugar as it is more commonly referred to, is the body’s main source of energy and comes from the food we eat. The pancreas helps create the hormone insulin and moves the glucose from the blood in our body cells, which is used for energy.

Sometimes our bodies do not make enough or any insulin, or use insulin ineffectively. Glucose then stays in our blood and doesn’t reach the cells and over time the body has built up too much glucose which, if untreated, can damage nerves, eyes, kidneys and other organs. Even though there is no cure, there are steps that can be taken to manage diabetes and stay healthy.

Let’s start off by taking a look at the different types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas, where insulin is made. It’s unclear what causes this attack. About 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1. It is caused by factors that are out of our control.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body becomes resistant to insulin, and sugar builds up in your blood. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with better food choices, increased activity, and weight loss.
  • Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar is higher than normal but is not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar during pregnancy. Insulin-blocking hormones produced by the placenta cause this type of diabetes.
  • A rare condition called “diabetes insipidus”. It is not related to diabetes mellitus, although it has a similar name. It’s a different condition in which your kidneys remove too much fluid from your body.

Potential diabetes risks should be discussed with a doctor. If you are potentially at risk, have your blood sugar tested and follow your doctor’s advice for managing your blood sugar.

Symptoms of diabetes

Symptoms are caused by rising blood sugar.

General symptoms

Symptoms in men

Symptoms in women

  • increased hunger
  • increased thirst
  • weight loss
  • frequent urination
  • blurry vision
  • extreme fatigue
  • sores that don’t heal

In addition to the general symptoms:

  • urinary tract infections
  • yeast infections
  • dry, itchy skin

In addition to the general symptoms:

  • decreased sex drive
  • erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • poor muscle strength

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes

Symptoms of gestational diabetes

  • extreme hunger
  • increased thirst
  • unintentional weight loss
  • frequent urination
  • blurry vision
  • tiredness
  • may also result in mood changes
  • increased hunger
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination
  • blurry vision
  • tiredness
  • sores that are slow to heal
  • most women with gestational diabetes don’t have any symptoms and the condition is often detected during a routine blood sugar test or oral glucose tolerance test
  • in rare cases, a woman with gestational diabetes will also experience increased thirst or urination

Diabetes diagnosis

Anyone who has symptoms of diabetes, or is at risk should be tested. Women are routinely tested for gestational diabetes during their second or third trimesters of pregnancy.

Prediabetes and diabetes

Gestational diabetes

Doctors use the following blood tests:

  • the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test measures your blood sugar after you’ve fasted for 8 hours
  • the A1C test provides a snapshot of your blood sugar levels over the previous 3 months

Your doctor will test your blood sugar levels between week 24 and 28 of your pregnancy.

  • during the glucose challenge test, your blood sugar is checked an hour after you drink a sugary liquid
  • during the 3 hour glucose tolerance test, your blood sugar is checked after you fast overnight and then drink a sugary liquid

The earlier you get diagnosed with diabetes, the sooner you can start treatment.

Causes of diabetes

Different causes are associated with each type of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Gestational diabetes

  • doctors don’t know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes. For some reason, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
  • genes may play a role in some cases. It’s also possible that a virus triggers the immune system attack.
  • type 2 diabetes stems from a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. Being overweight or obese increases your risk too. Carrying extra weight, especially in your belly, makes your cells more resistant to the effects of insulin on your blood sugar.
  • this condition runs in families. Family members share genes that make them more likely to get type 2 diabetes and to be overweight.
  • gestational diabetes is the result of hormonal changes during pregnancy. The placenta produces hormones that make a pregnant woman’s cells less sensitive to the effects of insulin. This can cause high blood sugar during pregnancy.
  • women who are overweight when they get pregnant, or who gain too much weight during their pregnancy are more likely to get gestational diabetes.

Diabetes risk factors

Certain factors increase your risk for diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Gestational diabetes

You’re more likely to get type 1 diabetes if:

  • you’re a child or teenager, carrying certain genes linked to the disease
  • you have a parent or sibling with the condition

Your risk for type 2 diabetes increases if you:

  • are overweight
  • are age 45 or older
  • have a parent or sibling with the condition
  • aren’t physically active
  • have had gestational diabetes
  • have prediabetes
  • have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high triglycerides

Your risk for gestational diabetes increases if you:

  • are overweight
  • are over age 25
  • had gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy
  • have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • have a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Diabetes complications

Gestational diabetes

High blood sugar damages organs and tissues throughout your body. The higher your blood sugar is and the longer you live with it, the greater your risk for complications.

Complications associated with diabetes include:

  • heart disease, heart attack and stroke
  • neuropathy
  • nephropathy
  • retinopathy and vision loss
  • hearing loss
  • foot damage, such as infections and sores that don’t heal
  • skin conditions, such as bacterial and fungal infections
  • depression
  • dementia

Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can lead to problems that affect both the mother and baby.

Complications affecting the baby can include:

  • premature birth
  • higher-than-normal weight at birth
  • increased risk for type 2 diabetes later in life
  • low blood sugar
  • jaundice
  • stillbirth

The mother can develop complications such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. She may also require caesarean delivery. The mother’s risk of gestational diabetes in future pregnancies also increases.

Treatment of diabetes

Doctors treat diabetes with a few different medications. Some of these drugs are taken orally, while others are available as injections.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Gestational diabetes

  • insulin is the main treatment for type 1 diabetes. It replaces the hormone your body isn’t able to produce.
  • there are four types of insulin that are most commonly used. They’re differentiated by how quickly they start to work, and how long their effects last:
    • rapid-acting insulin starts to work within 15 minutes and its effects last for 3 to 4 hours
    • short-acting insulin starts to work within 30 minutes and lasts 6 to 8 hours
    • intermediate-acting insulin starts to work within 1 to 2 hours and lasts 12 to 18 hours
    • long-acting insulin starts to work a few hours after injection and lasts 24 hours or longer
  • diet and exercise can help some people manage type 2 diabetes. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your blood sugar, you’ll need to take medication.
  • these drugs lower your blood sugar in a variety of ways
  • you may need to take more than one of these drugs. Some people with type 2 diabetes also take insulin.
  • you’ll need to monitor your blood sugar level several times a day during pregnancy. If it’s high, dietary changes and exercise may or may not be enough to bring it down.
  • according to the Mayo Clinic, about 10 to 20 percent of women with gestational diabetes will need insulin to lower their blood sugar. Insulin is safe for the growing baby.

Diabetes and diet

Healthy eating is a central part of managing diabetes. In some cases, changing your diet may be enough to control the disease.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Gestational diabetes

  • your blood sugar level rises or falls, based on the types of foods you eat. Starchy or sugary foods make blood sugar levels rise rapidly. Protein and fat cause more gradual increases.
  • your medical team may recommend that you limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat each day. You’ll also need to balance your carb intake with your insulin doses.
  • work with a dietitian who can help you design a diabetes meal plan. Getting the right balance of protein, fat and carbs can help you control your blood sugar.
  • eating the right types of foods can control both your blood sugar and help you lose any excess weight
  • carb counting is an important part of eating for type 2 diabetes. A dietitian can help you figure out how many grams of carbohydrates to eat during each meal.
  • in order to keep your blood sugar levels steady, try to eat small meals throughout the day. Focus on healthy foods such as:
    • fruits
    • vegetables
    • whole grains
    • lean protein such as poultry and fish
    • healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts
  • certain other foods can undermine efforts to keep your blood sugar in control. Investigate the foods you should avoid if you have diabetes.
  • eating a well-balanced diet is important for both you and your baby during these nine months. Making the right food choices can also help you avoid diabetes medications.
  • watch your portion sizes, and limit sugary or salty foods. Although you need some sugar to feed your growing baby, you should avoid eating too much.
  • consider an eating plan with the help of a dietitian or nutritionist. They’ll ensure that your diet has the right mix of macronutrients.

Diabetes prevention

Many other diabetes risk factors are controllable. Most diabetes prevention strategies involve making simple adjustments to your diet and fitness routine.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Type 1 isn’t preventable because it’s caused by a problem with the immune system.

Some causes of type 2 diabetes, such as genes or age, aren’t under our control either. Yet if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, here are a few things you can do to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes:

  • get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, such as walking or cycling
  • cut saturated and trans fats, along with refined carbohydrates, out of your diet
  • eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • eat smaller portions
  • try to lose 7% of your body weight if you’re overweight or obese

Diabetes in pregnancy

Women who’ve never had diabetes can suddenly develop gestational diabetes in pregnancy. Hormones produced by the placenta can make your body more resistant to the effects of insulin.

Some women who had diabetes before they conceived carry it with them into pregnancy. This is called pre-gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes should go away after you deliver, but it does significantly increase your risk for getting diabetes later.

About half of women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years of delivery, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

Having diabetes during your pregnancy can also lead to complications for your new born, such as jaundice or breathing problems.

If you’re diagnosed with pre-gestational or gestational diabetes, you’ll need special monitoring to prevent complications.

Diabetes in children

Children can get both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Controlling blood sugar is especially important in young people, because the disease can damage important organs such as the heart and kidneys.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

  • the autoimmune form of diabetes often starts in childhood. One of the main symptoms is increased urination. Kids with type 1 diabetes may start wetting the bed after they’ve been toilet trained.
  • extreme thirst, fatigue and hunger are also signs of the condition. It’s important that children with type 1 diabetes get treated right away. The disease can cause high blood sugar and dehydration, which can be medical emergencies.
  • type 1 diabetes used to be called “juvenile diabetes” because type 2 was so rare in children. Now that more children are overweight or obese, type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in this age group.
  • about 40 percent of children with type 2 diabetes don’t have symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease is often diagnosed during a physical examination.
  • untreated type 2 diabetes can cause lifelong complications, including heart disease, kidney disease and blindness. Healthy eating and exercise can help your child manage their blood sugar and prevent these problems.
  • type 2 diabetes is more prevalent than ever in young people

Visit Diabetes South Africa’s website for more information, recipes, support groups, etc.

Accessed November 2020 Last reviewed 2018

Although this communication has been prepared with due care and in good faith, it provides information and opinions of a general nature. The interpretations and opinions are those of the authors and are subject to change without notice. Simeka Health accepts no liability or responsibility if any information is incorrect or for any loss or damage, including but not limited to, direct, indirect or consequential loss, that may arise from reliance on information contained herein. It does not constitute advice and should not be accepted as such and no part thereof should be relied upon without seeking appropriate professional advice. Simeka Health (Pty) Ltd is an authorised Financial Services Provider.



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