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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin, a hormone made the pancreas, regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The body needs insulin to use glucose for energy. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to high blood sugar levels, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves.

Types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes 

Occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and kills the beta cells of the pancreas. As a result, the body makes little or no insulin.  This leads to a blood glucose build-up instead of being used as energy. About five to 10 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes generally develops in childhood or adolescence but can develop in adulthood.

Type 2 diabetes 

It occurs when the body cannot properly use its insulin or make enough insulin. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. About 90 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes develops more often in adults but can affect children too.

Gestational diabetes 

It is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. It affects approximately two to four per cent of all pregnancies (in the non-Aboriginal population) and involves a higher risk of developing diabetes for both mother and child.


Refers to blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.


Signs and symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes can include 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, and tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.

However, it is essential to recognize that many people with Type 2 diabetes have few or no symptoms.


Diabetes-related complications can be very serious and even life-threatening.  They include organ failure, foot problems such as amputation, and eye disease (retinopathy) that can lead to blindness, heart attack, stroke, anxiety, nerve damage, and erectile dysfunction for men. Keeping blood glucose levels in a healthy range can significantly reduce the risk of these complications.


More on this topic

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Stem cell-based treatment produces insulin in patients with Type 1 diabetes

Potential new diabetes treatment being tested in Vancouver