A Diabetes Primer

Diabetes is a chronic disease diagnosed in over 20.8 million U.S. children and adults. Those diagnosed with diabetes have high blood glucose levels (blood sugar) and they’re bodies are either unable to make insulin or the insulin they produce cannot be used.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. It is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into the energy required for daily life. Essentially, it “unlocks” the body’s cells, allowing glucose (sugar) to enter the body’s cells and be converted into energy.

With diabetes, sugar does not enter the cells. Instead, it builds up in the blood stream, starving the body’s cells of energy. Long-term high blood sugar levels can damage organs and body systems resulting in blindness, cardiovascular disease, loss of circulation and/or kidney failure.

The cause of diabetes has not been determined. Genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play a role.

Because this is a growing segment of our population and because an individual who properly manages his/her diabetes has no limitations on his or her activity, its important for public service providers to understand the disease, recognize the warning signs and work to avoid problems – whether that be in our recreation centers, on our ball fields or in our parks. It’s not our job to manage our citizen’s disease, but it sure is helpful to recognize diabetic related complications to exercise or recreation and know how to react to them if needed.

So, here’s more than you probably ever wanted to know about diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

Type I diabetes is when the pancreas fails to produce insulin. An individual with Type I diabetes requires daily insulin either through a shot or insulin pump. Insulin shots are usually given two to three times per day at regular times. An insulin pump delivers a steady flow of insulin to the body. This type occurs most often in children and young adults but it can occur at any age. Approximately five to ten percent of individuals diagnosed have Type I diabetes.

Type II diabetes is when the pancreas produces insulin but the body does not utilize it properly. This type was previously referred to as adult-onset diabetes but unfortunately, children as young as six years of age are now being diagnosed. Oral medication and proper diet are needed to treat this condition. A proper diet and exercise are often all that is necessary to manage, and even prevent, Type II diabetes. Most individuals diagnosed have Type II diabetes.

Warning Signs

Typical warning signs of Type I and Type II diabetes, as provided by the American Diabetes Association, are outlined in the following table. Persons with Type II diabetes sometimes have symptoms that are so mild that they go undetected.

Warning Signs – Type I Diabetes

Frequent urination

Excessive thirst

Extreme hunger

Dramatic weight loss


Weakness and fatigue

Nausea and vomiting

*Symptoms usually occur suddenly

Warning Signs – Type II Diabetes

Recurring or hard-to-heal skin, gum, or bladder infections


Blurred vision

Tingling or numbness in hands or feet


*Symptoms usually occur gradually

Diabetes Complications That Require Immediate Medical Attention

It is very important for individuals with either type of diabetes to monitor and maintain desirable levels of blood sugar. Two complications that require immediate attention can occur without proper monitoring and maintenance.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is often referred to as an insulin reaction. It is a result of too much insulin in the blood stream. Symptoms appear rapidly and must be treated quickly. If untreated, an individual may become unconscious. It usually occurs in people who have not eaten or when they have engaged in excessive exercise. Hypoglycemia is more prevalent in individuals with Type I diabetes.

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