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Diabetes can be a life-long disease. There are two types of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes happens when a person’s immune system destroys the cells in their pancreas that make insulin. Insulin is an important hormone that helps the body turn sugar, or glucose, into energy. Type 1 diabetes is rare and typically starts in people under the age of 20.

Type 2 diabetes is different and much more common.  People with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but their cells don't use it as well as they should and sugar builds up in the blood. Typically, Type 2 diabetes occurs in adults, but with obesity on the rise (being overweight can lead to Type 2 diabetes), more adolescents and teens are also being impacted. 

Over time, high glucose levels in your blood can harm the nerves and small blood vessels in your eyes, kidneys, and heart. They can also make you more likely to get hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. As a result, diabetes can lead to other serious health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness and loss of limbs. People who have diabetes have at least two times greater risk of heart disease and stroke than those who do not.

Diabetes is among the leading causes of hospitalization and death in our state, and the number of people with diabetes is growing to epidemic proportions.

Nearly one in ten Washington residents has diabetes. Over one-fourth of those with diabetes are undiagnosed. In addition, over one-third of all adults in Washington have prediabetes (a precursor to Type 2 diabetes), but most do not know it.

Proper care and management of diabetes can reduce the risk of complications that can cause significant physical, emotional and financial burdens. So it’s important to receive quality, evidence-based care to make sure you get the treatment you need and deserve.

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What can patients do to help manage diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is treatable.  Type 2 diabetes is often preventable and treatable. Patients with diabetes need to take an active role in their health and health care. As with other chronic conditions, it’s important to learn the basics about diabetes, work with your primary care provider and get to know your health care team.

Always take medications as prescribed by your doctor.  If you are having a problem with a medication, talk to your doctor before making any changes.

Try to keep a record of the results of your visits and actions to take care of yourself. Partner with your provider to make (and keep) a realistic eating and exercise plan. Check your blood pressure at your neighborhood pharmacy or using a home monitor when you can.  Check your blood sugar levels at home regularly and check your feet for sores or other signs of problems on a regular basis.

Keep in touch with your health care team so they can regularly monitor your health and diabetes status.

Visit Own Your Health to help you make informed health care decisions.

What should your doctor do?

Work with you to develop an annual care plan that includes checking the following:

  • Blood sugar level (HbA1c) at each visit
  • Blood pressure at each visit
  • Kidney function at least once a year
  • Eye exams at least once every 1 or 2 years
  • Check feet at each visit for sores or other signs of problems

Your doctor should also consider if a daily aspirin regimen is right for you, provide a flu shot each year and talk to you about smoking. Working as a team, you and your doctor can manage your diabetes, reduce your risk of complications and help you live as healthy as you can.