What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that impairs the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, moves glucose from the bloodstream into the tissue cells. The body breaks down the carbohydrates (sugars and starches) you eat and turns them into glucose, which is then used for energy. Without insulin, the body cannot complete this process.

Diabetes occurs in several forms:

Type 1 Diabetes

Approximately 5% of the diabetic population suffers from type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults but can occur at any age. Insulin therapy and other treatments can allow even young children to manage type 1 diabetes and live long healthy lives.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not have enough insulin and/or is unable to use it properly. In early stages, the pancreas produces extra insulin to make up for this deficiency. Over time the body is unable to keep up and cannot make enough insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. If uncontrolled, it can cause the baby to grow very large, leading to problems with the baby’s delivery. Gestational babies are more likely to become overweight or obese during childhood or adolescence, which can, in turn, lead to type 2 diabetes. Women who develop gestational diabetes have up to a 60% risk of developing type 2 diabetes as they age.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

Common symptoms of diabetes:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger, even if you are eating regularly
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Weight loss , even if you are eating more (type 1)
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands or feet (type 2)

Some people with type 2 diabetes may have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed. Early detection and treatment can decrease the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.

What Are the Risks of Undiagnosed or Untreated Diabetes?

Uncontrolled blood sugars over time can affect your health by damaging healthy cells, tissues and organs. Health risks associated with diabetes include:

  • Eye disease (retinopathy)
  • Kidney disease (nephropathy)
  • Nerve disease (neuropathy)
  • Dental problems and periodontal disease
  • Heart disease
  • Peripheral arterial disease

Risk Factors and Complications

Can Diabetes Be Prevented?

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented; however, you can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Eat a healthy, high-fiber, low-carbohydrate diet. Watch portion sizes and focus on whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts. Eliminate processed food, sugar and refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and pasta
  • Work out regularly
  • Drink water, coffee or tea and avoid soda
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Quit smoking

What Should I Do If I Am Diagnosed With Diabetes?

As a newly diagnosed diabetic, it’s important to take the disease seriously and take certain steps to manage it effectively. Some things about your daily routine will need to change. Fortunately, you can do a great deal to keep yourself healthy and manage your diabetes. This section will provide you with tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle and control the disease.

A few important first steps include:

Managing the ABCs of Diabetes
Managing the ABCs of Diabetes

How Do I Maintain a Healthy Outlook When I Have Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease. People are often taken by surprise and sometimes do not believe the diagnosis is correct. They often experience anger, denial and depression. Research has shown that people with diabetes are more likely to develop mental health issues as a result (depression, diabetes distress, anxiety, and eating disorders). Dealing with the physical, psychological and social aspects of having diabetes may require assistance to make necessary lifestyle changes. Working with a health care professional to develop coping and problem-solving skills can help you improve blood sugar levels as well as quality of life.

Coping Tips

  • Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time to adjust
  • If you feel overwhelmed or are having trouble sleeping or eating, talk to your doctor (this could be the onset of depression)
  • If you feel angry, try to figure out why and think about how that anger may be negatively affecting your life. Work on changing the thoughts, physical responses and actions that fuel your anger. The better you understand anger, the better you will be able to use it for good self-care
  • Build a team, which may include your physician(s), a Certified Diabetes Educator, a psychologist, a pharmacist, plus your family and friends

Make a Plan

Work with your team to design a care plan that will work for you, and let them help you make changes to the plan as your life changes. Your plan should include:

  • Keeping appointments
  • Eating healthy meals and snacks
  • Adding more activity to your daily routine
  • Taking your medications as prescribed
  • Checking your blood sugar at home
  • Reducing your risk for complications

Manage Stress

Stress can be a vicious circle for diabetics. Stress can increase the blood sugar, but if you are having a hard time controlling your blood sugar levels, your stress level may increase as a result. Here are some tips to manage stress:

  • Accept that you can't control everything
  • Increase your physical activity
  • Incorporate breathing/relaxation exercises into your day
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive ones
  • Join a support group
  • Get help from your diabetes care team
  • Tap into faith and family

Get Support

Having diabetes will change certain parts of your life. Having the support of friends and family will be an important part in the successful management of your disease and accomplishing certain lifestyle changes. You will need to help educate these important people in your lives about diabetes and the lifestyle changes that it will mean for you. A few examples of ways to get them involved:

  • Invite them to attend your doctor appointments or diabetes classes
  • Ask them to participate in your healthy lifestyle changes
  • Ask them to research diabetes and share educational materials with them

Memorial Hermann Diabetes Education Programs

Each participating Memorial Hermann hospital offers a unique program for patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, Pre-diabetes and Gestational Diabetes. All of our programs are approved by the American Diabetes Association and are taught by certified diabetes educators who are Registered Dietitians and Registered Nurses.

Diabetes Education covers the principles of Diabetes Self-Management including:

  • Healthy eating
  • Being active
  • Glucose monitoring
  • Medications
  • Problem solving
  • Reducing risks
  • Healthy coping

Class Schedules & Cost

Class schedules vary by campus. Please contact the hospital campus closest to you for more information. Links to each campus and telephone contact information can be found below. Understanding diabetes is the key to preventing diabetic complications and this can save lives. The cost of the program is covered by most insurance groups, Medicare and some Medicaid plans. Please contact your insurance provider to verify your benefits.

Free Diabetes Support Group

Virtual support groups are available every other month via Zoom from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m, click here to for dates and registration information.

Please download this form to attend the virtual group and email completed form to DiabetesEducators@memorialhermann.org.

Diabetes Management Locations

Each participating Memorial Hermann hospital offers a unique program for patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes. Contact us at any of our locations and ask us about support groups and classes.

The information presented on this page is educational and not intended as medical advice or the practice of medicine. Specific aspects of your outcomes and care should be addressed and answered after consultation with your physician.