What is diabetes?
Diabetes is the condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. Most of the food we eat turns into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use as energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugars to build up in your blood. This is why many people refer to diabetes as “sugar.”

Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?
People who think they might have diabetes must visit a physician for diagnosis. They might have SOME or NONE of the following symptoms:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
  • Feeling very tired most of the time
  • Very dry skin
  • Sores that are slow to heal
  • More infections than usual

Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains may accompany some of these symptoms in the abrupt onset of insulin-dependent diabetes, now called Type 1 diabetes. What are the types of diabetes?

Type 1
Type 1 diabetes, previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile-onset diabetes, may account for 5 percent to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Risk factors are less well defined for Type 1 diabetes than for Type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved in the development of this type of diabetes.

Type 2
Type 2 diabetes was previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for about 90 percent to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes develops in 2 percent to 5 percent of all pregnancies but usually disappears when a pregnancy is over. Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently in African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and people with a family history of diabetes than in other groups. Obesity is also associated with higher risk. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at increased risk for later developing Type 2 diabetes. In some studies, nearly 40 percent of women with a history of gestational diabetes developed diabetes in the future.

How do I know I have diabetes?
If you have the symptoms mentioned above you should see your primary care physician (PCP) for a diagnosis. Your PCP can take a simple blood glucose test and determine your status. Once diagnosed you can make an appointment to see a specialist.

What should I expect as a patient?
At the USC Westside Center for Diabetes , patients undergo a comprehensive history and physical examination to screen for risk factors associated with diabetes, such as arterial hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, etc.

Since some patients may experience problems with their eyes without symptoms, a picture of the retina can be taken to assess eye disease.

The heart and nerves are evaluated to detect any neuropathy. Patients are also assessed by a nutritionist and diabetic nurse educator to determine the extent of their knowledge about the varied aspects of the disease. Once the patient assessment is complete, patients and their physicians are given guidelines for different treatment options.

Patients who remain with the Keck Hospital of USC program for intensive insulin therapy are trained by diabetic educators and nutritionists. Intensive insulin therapy is also available, with continuous insulin infusion (insulin pump therapy). In addition, the program offers special classes for persons with diabetes who are involved in different sports activities.