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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes currently affects 246 million people worldwide and is expected to affect 380 million by 2025.¹ More than 2 million Canadians have diabetes. By the end of the decade, this number is expected to rise to 3 million. Even though diabetes affects nearly 4% of the world’s population², many people know very little about the disease.

There are 2 primary types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. As a result, the body makes very little or no insulin of its own. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.

  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body cannot properly use the insulin it does produce. Initially, changes in diet and activity levels may control blood glucose levels. As type 2 diabetes progresses pills and/or insulin may be added to control blood glucose. Eventually, the pancreas may stop producing insulin altogether. Type 2 diabetes can affect people at any age. In both men and women, excess weight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.³

1 International Diabetes Federation. Did you know? Available at: Accessed October 16, 2008.
2 US Census Bureau. World Population Clock Projection. Available at: Accessed October 16, 2008. Estimated world population is 6.8 billion.
3 International Diabetes Federation. Fact Sheet Diabetes and Obesity. Available at: Accessed November 13, 2008.


A hormone produced in the beta cells in the pancreas. The body uses insulin to let glucose enter cells, where it is used for energy.

Now known as type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces no insulin or extremely small amounts. People with type 1 need to take insulin injections in order to live.

Now known as type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces no insulin or extremely small amounts. People with type 1 need to take insulin injections in order to live.


Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood glucose drops too low.

The body responds to low blood glucose with warning signs that may be different in each person. Some warning signs of low blood glucose are feeling:

  • Weak
  • Shaky
  • Sweaty
  • Irritable or confused
  • Hungry

Low blood glucose may occur if your meal or snack is delayed or missed, after vigorous physical activity, or if too much insulin is given. In a person without diabetes, the pancreas will stop producing insulin if the blood glucose level falls below normal. In a person with diabetes, the insulin they inject or pump keeps working, even when the blood glucose level is low. In people with type 2 diabetes some of the diabetes medications help your body to make more insulin and if you take these medications without eating food, you can also have low blood glucose. Check with your healthcare provider.

Low blood glucose may be caused by the following:

  • Not following your meal plan like skipping or delaying a meal
  • Too much exercise or exercising for a long time without eating a snack or adjusting your insulin before exercise
  • Too much medication or a change in the time you take your medication
  • Stress
  • Side effects from other medications
  • Alcohol intake, especially without food

How to treat low blood glucose:

  • If you feel any of the warning signs of low blood glucose, test immediately, and in the event that you do not have a blood glucose meter, treat right away.
  • Eat or drink fast-acting sugar such as:
    • 15 grams of glucose tablets (this works very fast)
    • 3 teaspoons or 3 packets of table sugar dissolved in 15 ml water
    • ½ cup of juice or regular soft drink (non diet)
    • 6 Life Savers®
    • 1 tablespoon of honey

Wait 10-15 minutes, check your blood glucose. If it is still low (less than 4.0 mmol/L):

  • Treat again with one of the fast-acting sugar mentioned above.
  • If your next meal is more than 1 hour away, eat a snack such as a sandwich or crackers and cheese.
  • Try to work out why your blood glucose went low so that you can avoid it from happening again.

Regular testing may help you avoid hypoglycemia. It is important to check your blood glucose often. If untreated, hypoglycemia can cause serious effects, such as seizures or fainting.

Someone who is having seizures or who has passed out will need help from others. People at this severe stage will need an immediate glucagon injection. A doctor must prescribe glucagon and show you and your loved ones how to prepare and inject it.

A hormone produced by the alpha cells of the pancreas which increases blood glucose levels. Glucagon can also be administered to people with diabetes who are having severe low blood glucose episodes.

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Hypoglycemia and Exercise
Physical activity or exercising for a prolonged period can lower blood glucose, but there are several measures you can take to treat it.

Learn more »

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