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Diabetes: A Primer

Glucose, or blood sugar, is an important source of energy, especially for the brain, and insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which allows cells to use it and regulates how much of it your blood contains.

Diabetes means the pancreas doesn't produce enough, or any, insulin, or that the hormone is not doing its job effectively. This causes blood sugar levels to be too high—a state known as hyperglycemia.

Symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Increased hunger and thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • More frequent infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Etc.

Those are the symptoms of hyperglycemia.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can appear progressively or suddenly. Those of type 2 diabetes are so minor that they often go unnoticed for several years.

Some figures

Prediabetes or diabetes may be diagnosed when blood sugar levels reach the following values:


  Prediabetes Diabetes (type 1 or 2)
Fasting blood glucose Between 6.1 and 6.9 mmol/L (abnormal fasting blood) 7.0 mmol/L and over
Blood glucose two hours after ingesting 75 g glucose* Between 7.8 and 11.0 mmol/L (glucose intolerance) 11.1 mmol/L and over
Blood glucose at any given time of day -- 11.1 mmol/L and over + Usual symptoms of diabetes

* To diagnose prediabetes or diabetes, physicians will induce hyperglycemia in their patients by having them drink a liquid containing 75 g of glucose.


Types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

This is an immune system problem that mostly occurs in children and young adults: pancreatic beta cells (those that produce insulin) are attacked and destroyed. 

Type 2 diabetes

The most common form of diabetes, it is mostly found in adults. Insulin production is insufficient, or the body is resistant to insulin.

In both cases, the disease is chronic and incurable. It can be managed, however, through proper nutrition, an active lifestyle and adequate blood sugar monitoring. 


Blood sugar is higher than it should be, but it’s not a case of diabetes yet. 

Gestational diabetes

This type of diabetes occurs late in pregnancy and usually disappears when the baby is born.

Prediabetes and gestational diabetes can resolve if measures are taken to stabilize blood sugar, but they are still risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

There are other, rarer types of diabetes; in all of those cases, the problem lies with the body’s production or use of insulin.

Stubborn myths

It is a common misconception that eating too much sugar causes diabetes, or that being overweight or obese will necessarily lead to type 2 diabetes. In fact, genetics weigh heavily in the balance.

Of course, a sugar-rich diet can lead to overweight and obesity, which are associated with type 2 diabetes. But an overweight or obese person may very well never develop diabetes, while a person with a healthy weight might.


You hear the word “diabetes” so often that everyone feels like they know the subject well. However, taking some time to really learn what it’s about can help avoid many problems.


American Diabetes Association, “Diabetes Basics”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
American Diabetes Association, “Diabetes Myths”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
Canadian Diabetes Association, “Types of Diabetes”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Basics About Diabetes”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “Type 1 diabetes”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “Other types of diabetes”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “What is diabetes?”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
Heart and Stroke Foundation, “Diabetes”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
Mayo Clinic, “Diabetes”: Accessed January 26, 2017.
WebMD, “Diabetes Basics”: Accessed January 26, 2017.

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