What is diabetes?

What is diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to use the sugar (glucose) coming from the foods we eat. Most of the foods are transformed or digested in the body into simple sugar, also named glucose. The blood glucose level then rises. Glucose is the principal energy source of the body.

The millions of cells in the human body get nourishment from glucose to survive. Glucose is the fuel the body needs to get the necessary energy to maintain its functions. To get the glucose into the cells, the muscle and fat cells need insulin (it’s a hormone) produced by the pancreas. The insulin works like a key. It opens the cell’s door to glucose. Once inside the cell, glucose can be used as energy.

There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and 2.


Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas completely stops secreting insulin.


Read on Type 1


Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin or when the body is unable to use the insulin that the pancreas produces.

Read on Type 2

Les complications


When diabetes is not well controlled, meaning that the blood sugar level isn’t at a normal rate, (between 3.8 mmol/L and 6.8 mmol/L, on an empty stomach) two types of complications can occur:

– Acute complications

– Chronic complications

Chronic complications are the result of damage, caused to the body after a long period of poorly controlled glucose level.

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Controlling your blood glucose level

To have a normal glycemia level, a diabetic person is aiming for a target between 3.8 to 6.8 mmol/l before meals and 5 to 10 mmol/l, two (2) hours after meals.

A good control reduces the risks of complications. This is poosible by getting a good balance between a healthy diet, physical activity, stress management and medication, if needed.

As indicated in the graphic above, food and stress will increase your blood sugar level, while physical activity and medication (insulin and pills for diabetes) will lower it.

If your blood sugar level falls under 4 mmol/l, your blood sugar is too low (hypoglycemia).

If your blood sugar level goes over 7 mml/l, on an empty stomach (before meals) or is over 10 mmol/l, two (2) hours after your meal, your blood sugar is too high (hyperglycemia).

Self-monitoring means very carefully evaluating the variety and quantity of your food intake, determining the quantity of exercise in your daily routine and also adjusting your insulin doses (type 1).

To assess your blood glucose level, tests are done at home by:

– Blood glucose test also known as capillary glycemia (done by taking a drop of blood from the tip of your finger and putting it on your meter strip).

– A urine or blood ketone level test may be required on some occasions in type 1 diabeties.

Your doctor will also require blood tests regularly for a better evaluation of your diabetes control.

Auto-control is done by:

– Taking your glycemia
– Nutrition
– Controlling your stress
– Physical activity
– Oral medication
– Insuline

Keep up the courage

Being given a diabetes diagnosis is not an easy thing to accept. When learning the news, people go on a roller-coaster of emotions and reactions. Next you will see the different process in accepting the illness:

Type 1

Initial phase:

– Shock and disbelief reaction

– Denial on different levels

– Aggressiveness or bitterness

– Impression of being in a nightmare

Halfway in between acceptance:

– State of apathy and despondency (complete absence of energy)

– Depression and isolation

Final phase:

– Accepting to live with the illness no matter what

– Respecting the illness in all its reality

– Expressing your needs and limits

– Starting to live again

Type 2

The shock:

– Seeing  the danger

– Anxiety and even panic

– Difficulties in overpowering the situation and feeling powerless

Defensive retreat:

– Defensive reaction or running away

– Rigidity against it and refusal of considering the possibility of changing


– Realizing that we are powerless in stopping the changes

– Anxiety and even a light state of depression

– Slowly changing our reality perception


– Finding a new sense in our life’s objective

– Accepting the limits that the illness imposes on us

Signs of acceptation or adaptation to the illness:

– When we really conquered it

– When it doesn’t change much of our daily activities

– When it doesn’t stop us from being as active as we want to be

– When diabetes doesn’t slow us down in our capacity of participating in social or leisure activities and does no longer diminish our satisfaction and pleasure that we get in those activities

– When it doesn’t ruin our relationship with our spouse, our children, our family and friends. Even more, our family and friends support us regarding our diabetes

– When diabetes doesn’t affect our efficiency at work

– When diabetes doesn’t stop us from travelling as much as we want to

– When we stop being anxious or worried regarding the complications associated to diabetes, but we still stay alert and informed.

J.B.M., Psychologist

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