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Diabetes Basics

Understanding the basics of diabetes is the first step in gaining control of your health. Let’s look at what causes diabetes, some of the common symptoms, the benefits of healthy living, and what to do if you’ve just been diagnosed.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a medical condition in which the blood glucose levels remain persistently higher than normal. It is becoming more common in Singapore. This may be due in part to ageing population, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows your body cells to use blood glucose for energy. Food is converted into glucose before it is absorbed into our bloodstream. The pancreas then releases insulin to move the glucose from the bloodstream into the body cells for use or storage. People with diabetes are unable to fully use the glucose in their bloodstream due to lack of insulin in the body or insulin is ineffective.1

3 main types of diabetes

  • With type 1 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t make insulin at all.
  • With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work correctly.
  • Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition, when a woman’s insulin is less effective during pregnancy.

Common symptoms of diabetes

The onset of type 1 diabetes usually happens fast, and symptoms may be intense. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes are usually mild (or even not there at all), and appear over time. Common symptoms of diabetes include:2

  • frequent thirst despite drinking lots of water
  • constant hunger
  • constant tiredness
  • itchy skin especially around the genital area
  • passing excessive urine during day and night
  • weight loss despite good appetite
  • poor healing of cuts and wounds​

If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes and show any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare professional for advice.

How does low blood glucose happen?

Hypoglycaemia, which is also called “low blood glucose,” occurs when the level of glucose in a person’s blood is too low. Low blood glucose can happen in people with diabetes​ who are on certain diabetes medicines, including insulin and some types of pills.

When can people with diabetes have low blood glucose?

  • Injecting too much insulin or taking an oral diabetes medication that causes your body to secrete insulin
  • Not eating enough food 
  • Exercising vigorously without eating a snack or adjusting the dose of insulin beforehand
  • Waiting too long between meals
  • Drinking excessive alcohol, although even moderate alcohol intake can increase the risk of hypoglycaemia in people with type 1 diabetes.

The symptoms of low blood glucose can be different from person to person, and can change over time. During the early stages of low blood glucose, a person may:

  • Sweat or tremble
  • Encounter fast heartbeat
  • Experience lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Feel hungry/Feel anxious

If the above symptoms are untreated, they can become more severe, which may include:

  • Trouble walking or feeling weak
  • Trouble seeing clearly
  • Being confused, or acting in a strange way
  • Passing out or having a seizure

If you have low blood glucose, you may try eating or drinking quick sources of sugar, such as half cup of juice or regular soda (not sugar-free), 5-6 hard candies (not sugar-free) or 1 tablespoonful of honey.

Foods that have fat, such as chocolate, cake or cheese, may not be as effective in raising your blood glucose. You and a family member should carry a quick source of sugar at all times. Please always consult your healthcare provider making any dietary adjustments as described above.

After adjusting their blood glucose level, most people can get back to their usual routine. Recheck your blood glucose after 15 minutes. Your doctor, pharmacist or nurse may recommend that you check your blood glucose level more frequently during the next 2 to 3 days as well.

If you still have low blood glucose after treatment, a family member or friend should take you to a hospital or call 9-9-5 for an ambulance.3

Newly diagnosed? Here’s what to do now.

It’s never easy to be handed a diabetes diagnosis. You may wonder, “Why is this happening?” and may fear the unknown. It’s common to blame yourself and worry about what others will think of you. What’s most important is that you acknowledge all of your emotions as they come and go, resolve to deal with them, and understand that you are not alone. The first step in taking control of your health after a diagnosis is making an appointment with your primary healthcare provider (or endocrinologist, or diabetes nurse, etc.), and finding out everything you can about your diabetes. To start, you should find out:

  • If you are type 1 or type 2
  • How to monitor your own blood glucose
  • How to operate a blood glucose meter
  • How to understand your blood glucose results
  • How to manage your diabetes
  • What kind of exercise is right for you
  • What changes to make to your diet
  • Other health issues you have that affect your diabetes treatment
  • Who else you can see for information

Create an entire treatment plan with your doctor, and make a follow-up appointment.

Eating and drinking

Thinking about the food you eat and making healthier choices is one of the most important ways you can manage your blood glucose. Talk to your dietitian to help you better understand in eating healthy.

Why monitoring your own blood glucose is important

Monitoring your blood glucose levels shows you, and your healthcare team, how food, exercise, or other factors like stress are affecting your blood glucose. If you monitor in a structured manner, you’ll begin to see patterns – highs and lows – and with consultation of your healthcare professional you will be able to make changes to your daily routine that may improve your condition over time. Maintaining optimum blood glucose control may help reduce the chances of developing complications from diabetes.

This information is of a general nature and should not be substituted for medical advice or used to alter medical therapy. Please consult your healthcare professional for medical advice.

*The information in this page is only of a general nature and is not meant to be medical advice, and should not be substituted for professional medical advice or used to alter medical therapy. Please always consult your healthcare professional for medical advice.

  1. HealthHub Singapore – Diabetes Mellitus https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/102/topics_diabetes Access 30 Jun 2017
  2. HealthHub Singapore – Diabetes Mellitus https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/102/topics_diabetes Access 30 Jun 2017
  3. HealthHub Singapore – Hypoglycaemia https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/593/diabetes-management-of-hypoglycaemia Access 30 Jun 2017

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