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Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology

Frequently asked questions

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the beta cells in the pancreas stop producing insulin. Insulin is needed to control the level of sugar in the blood. When the beta cells no longer produce insulin, the blood sugar levels get too high. People with Type 1 Diabetes must take insulin every day to manage their diabetes.

It is caused by an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body starts to destroy the pancreas beta cells that produce insulin. We are not sure why this happens. Genetics and the environment play a role in developing Type 1 Diabetes.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes happens when a person becomes resistant to the insulin their body is producing or when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. This means that although the pancreas is still making some insulin, the insulin does not work as well and the blood sugar levels get too high.

There are many different treatment options for people with Type 2 Diabetes. Some people can manage their blood sugars by watching what they eat and getting more physical activity, some people will use medications and some people will use insulin. While not everyone with Type 2 Diabetes will need to use insulin to manage their blood sugar levels, over time the pancreas can get tired and stop producing enough insulin. When this happens, some people will use insulin to manage their Type 2 Diabetes.

What are the risk factors for developing Type 2 Diabetes?

There are many factors that increase your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Some risk factors include:

  • If you have a first-degree relative with Type 2 Diabetes. For example, a parent or sibling.
  • If you are of Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or African descent.
  • If you had Gestational Diabetes or if you delivered a baby weighing over 9 pounds or 4.1 kilograms.
  • If you are overweight.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?

People experience symptoms differently. In Type 2 diabetes, symptoms are often mild and gradual. Whereas, in Type 1 diabetes, the symptoms can be more intense and come on quickly. Here are some of the symptoms you might experience:

  • Peeing often
  • Very thirsty
  • Weight loss
  • Tired
  • Blurry vision
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) or Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS) – Both are very serious conditions that occur when the blood sugars get very high. Symptoms of these can include: the symptoms listed above as well as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and/or difficulty breathing. If you have any of these symptoms, go to the emergency department immediately.

If I have Type 2 Diabetes, will I have to take insulin?

There are many different treatment options for people with Type 2 Diabetes. Some people can manage their blood sugars by watching what they eat and getting more physical activity, some people will use medications and some people will use insulin. While not everyone with Type 2 Diabetes will need to use insulin to manage their blood sugar levels, over time the pancreas can get tired and stop producing enough insulin. When this happens, some people will use insulin to manage their Type 2 Diabetes. Having high blood sugars can cause problems with other parts of your body, such as your eyes, kidneys, blood vessels, and nerves. So, no matter how you manage your diabetes, it is important to keep your blood sugar in target.

Why is it important to look after my diabetes?

Having high blood sugar levels can cause problems with other parts of your body, such as your eyes, kidneys, blood vessels, and nerves. So no matter how you manage your diabetes, the most important thing is to get your blood sugar levels down.

Are insulin injections painful?

Most people are surprised by how little an insulin injection hurts. With the small, fine needles available today, insulin injections are almost painless. Many people say that the finger pricks used to measure their blood sugar levels hurt more than their insulin injections.

What is the difference between the different types of insulin?

To answer this question, let’s first look at the way the body naturally produces insulin. Our body produces insulin in two different ways. First, it produces a little bit of insulin all day long to keep the liver under control. Without this small amount of insulin all day long, the liver would start producing too much sugar and the blood sugar level would start to rise. The second way the body produces insulin is that it makes one burst of insulin when you eat foods that contain carbohydrate and raise your blood sugar.

The insulin we use to manage diabetes tries to match the way the body would naturally produce insulin. We have basal and intermediate acting insulins that are taken once or twice a day and are responsible for managing the sugar that comes from our liver and then we have rapid and short acting insulins that are responsible for managing the sugar that comes from the carbohydrate you eat. We also have mixed insulins that mix rapid or short acting insulin and an intermediate insulin.

What foods raise my blood sugar?

Our food is made up of protein, fat and carbohydrate. Foods that contain carbohydrate have the biggest effect on our blood sugar. When we eat foods that contain carbohydrate, our body turns the carbohydrates into sugar and that sugar goes into our blood.

There are four main types of food that contain carbohydrate:

  • Starchy foods (For example: bread, rice, pasta, corn, potatoes, cereal)
  • Fruits and sweet vegetables (For example: apples, bananas, berries, squash, beets)
  • Milk products (For example: milk, yogurt)
  • Sugary foods (For example: fruit juice, regular pop, ice cream, honey, sugar)

Foods that contain mostly protein (for example - meat, chicken, fish, or eggs) or mostly fat (for example - nuts, oils, or butter) will not affect your blood sugar.

How does physical activity affect my blood sugar levels?

When we exercise, our body burns sugar as fuel, which can help to lower our blood sugar levels.

If you take insulin, being active can cause your blood sugar level to drop too low. If you are going to be active, consider taking less insulin before your activity or having a snack with carbohydrate before your activity.

For specific suggestions on how to manage your blood sugar during activity or if you experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during physical activity, talk to your diabetes team.

What are healthy blood sugar ranges?

This is something you should discuss with your diabetes doctor and diabetes team because there is not one answer to this question. The goal is to lower the blood sugar levels without causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The exact blood sugar level to aim for depends on many different factors including, age, hypoglycemia awareness (ability to feel when you blood sugar is too low), and other medical conditions you may have.

Do I need to test my blood sugar levels because I can tell when they are too high or too low?

While it is true that you may be able to tell when your blood sugar is too high or too low, in order to achieve your target blood sugar levels you want to prevent the highs and lows by having more precise information. People cannot tell the difference between blood sugar levels that are in the “mid-range” and this may be important for making insulin dose adjustments. It can be time consuming to test your blood sugar levels, so talk to your diabetes doctor or diabetes team to find out how often and when you should test your blood sugar level to get the best information.

If you did not find the answer to your questions here, talk to your diabetes team or check out the some of the resources included in the Links to external resources section of this website.