Diabetes is a disease that changes the way our bodies use food. It causes the level of sugar in the blood to be too high. The extra sugar harms he blood vessels and other organs in the body over time. Diabetes can cause great damage before any symptoms appear.

When we eat our bodies digest the food and turn it into sugar, or glucose. In a normal healthy person, an organ called the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone. Insulin helps the body’s cells use glucose to produce energy. The cells use this energy to keep our bodies healthy.

In someone with diabetes, either the pancreas is not producing enough insulin or the body does not use its insulin effectively. The cells cannot turn sugar into energy, and the sugar builds up in the blood. The cells are starve for energy, and the blood carries dangerously high levels of sugar that can’t be used.

There are two main types of diabetes:

Type 1 means that the pancreas is not producing the insulin, or is producing very little. This type always requires shots of insulin injected into the body every day.

Type 2 means that the pancreas is producing insulin, but not enough, or that the body does not use its insulin effectively.

Nine out of ten cases of diabetes are Type II. It usually occurs in people over age 45 who are overweight. It can be treated by diet, exercise, and/or medications that are taken by mouth. Sometimes it also requires insulin injections.

Why is it important to control diabetes?

The goal of treatment for diabetes is to keep the individual’s blood sugar as close to normal as possible for that person. Doing this will lower the person’s chances of getting:



Heart Disease Kidney Failure Stomach Disease
High Blood Pressure Eye Disease Loss of Vision Blindness


Nerve damage, with pain or loss of feeling in hands, feet, legs, or other parts of the body

A high level of sugar in the blood over a long period of time can cause these problems.

There are four parts to the diabetic treatment:

Diet Exercise Medicine Monitoring


We will discuss each of these elements of treatment. Anyone who helps a diabetic person should be familiar with the medicine, exercise regimen, monitoring program, and diet that the individual is supposed to follow.


There is no one diabetic diet designed for every diabetic person, but there are guidelines to help diabetics with food choices. These guidelines are very similar to the kind of eating that is healthy for anyone. These ae the main rules that should be followed:

  1. Eat few sugary foods.
  2. Eat less fat, especially saturated fat and cholesterol (butter, margarine, oils).
  3. Eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish.
  4. Eat just enough calories to stay at a healthy weight.


Exercise usually lowers blood sugar and may help insulin work better. It helps control weight, it improves blood flow, and it strengthens the heart. People with diabetes should exercise at least three times a week. Before a diabetic starts a new exercise program, a doctor should approve what kind, how often, and how long the diabetic exercises. Elderly and disabled people need to exercise also and should be helped to find an exercise they can do.


Diabetics might receive insulin shots or they may take pills by mouth. Only a doctor can decide what medication and how much of it a diabetic should receive. It can be VERY dangerous to change a diabetic’s medication in any way unless it is ordered by a doctor. Diabetics must receive the exact amount of medicine their doctor has ordered, at the times the doctor has ordered. Timing of medicine and meals is important to prevent low blood sugar.


Most diabetics need their blood sugar level tested at least once a day, usually in the morning before breakfast. Depending on the type of diabetes, the age of the person, and other factors, the individual may need his or her blood glucose tested as much as five times a day. Sometimes insulin dosages are adjusted depending on the blood sugar level. This chart from the National Diabetes Education Program shows the recommended blood sugar levels at different times of the day:

Before Meals 80-130
At Bedtime 100-150


A doctor must set the acceptable ranges for each person, and they might differ from the normal ranges given in the chart. When a blood glucose level falls outside the range set by the doctor, the doctor must be notified as soon as possible. If you are assisting a diabetic with monitoring his or her blood sugar, be sure you know the correct range for him or her.


Diabetes can cause both long-term and short-term problems. Blood sugar that is too low or extremely high can lead rapidly to unconsciousness and even death. You must know the symptoms of both conditions and know how to respond.

Hypoglycemia means that the level of sugar in the blood is too low (less than 70). Too much insulin or oral medication, too much exercise, not eating enough food or drinking alcohol can cause it. Hypoglycemia can cause strokes and heart attacks in the elderly.

Symptoms of low blood sugar (These symptoms occur suddenly and without warning):

Shaky, Nervous


Personality Change Sweaty and Cold Slurred Speech
Pale, Clammy Skin


Loss of Consciousness Weak and Tired Tingling


Dizziness Staggering Walk Confusion
Itching Nausea



The person should drink a sweet drink such as sweetened coffee or tea, orange juice, or soda.

Or, the diabetic could eat sugar, corn syrup, or candy, or take glucose tablets.

Hyperglycemia means that the level of sugar in the blood is too high (above 180). It can be caused by infections, illness, stress, injury, not enough insulin, not enough exercise, or eating too much food. Very high levels of sugar can cause coma and death.

Symptoms of high blood sugar (These symptoms occur gradually and get worse over time):

Extreme thirst and/or hunger


Fatigue and Drowsiness Rapid Weight Loss Nausea
Frequent Urination


Fruity-smelling breath Unconsciousness Vision Changes
Very deep, gasping breath Dry Skin and Mouth



The first seven symptoms in this list should be reported to your doctor as soon as possible. Fruity-smelling breath, deep gasping breathing, and unconsciousness are emergency symptoms that can lead quickly to death. Call 911 or access emergency medical care at once.