What you need to know about diabetes

Over 2.4 million Canadians are living with diabetes. Since 1996, the Centre for Diabetes Care at the Grey Nuns Hospital has helped thousands of people who share that burden.  

Joyce Kutnikoff, Diabetes Nurse Educator at the Centre for Diabetes Care, and one of her clients, Catherine Willis, who has had diabetes for over 55 years, share their knowledge of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.  

What are the risk factors for Type 1 diabetes?

Joyce Kutnikoff: Having a family member with Type 1 diabetes puts you at a slightly increased risk for Type 1; however, definite risk factors are not known.

What are the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes?

Joyce Kutnikoff: Having a family member with diabetes, belonging to certain high-risk groups (Aboriginal, South Asian and others), having had a baby over nine pounds, being diagnosed with pre-diabetes, being overweight, and having high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

What are the signs and symptoms that indicate diabetes?

Joyce Kutnikoff: Many people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes do not have any symptoms. People with undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes will have a sudden onset of symptoms that can include extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue or extreme tiredness, weight change (gain or loss) and blurred vision.

"Before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I was constantly thirsty. I drank like a fish and would have to get up in the middle of the night to quench my thirst. I was also always hungry. My mom wouldn’t even get the plates cleaned off the table from the meal and I was begging for food. She’d make me porridge after supper, but I just kept losing weight." –Catherine Willis

How do people feel when they are diagnosed with diabetes?

Joyce Kutnikoff: Many people are in denial at diagnosis, especially with Type 2 diabetes because they may not have had any symptoms. It’s hard to fix something that you feel is not broken. Often people are angry as well; it’s not an easy diagnosis to accept because of the lifestyle changes that are required.

With Type 1 diabetes, some feel quite relieved to know what it is that they have and that something can be done about it. Often people with Type 1 diabetes are quite sick when they are diagnosed, and getting their blood sugar back to relative normalcy makes them feel so much better. Of course, people with Type 1 can also be in denial and angry as well.

What are key elements in diabetes care?

Joyce Kutnikoff: Healthy eating, exercise/activity, blood sugar testing, medication (diabetes pills, non-insulin medication and insulin), and frequent contact with the diabetes team.

Catherine follows this guide to ensure she is eating appropriate servings of different food groups.

What are the different classes and programs that the Centre for Diabetes Care offers?

Joyce Kutnikoff: We have Type 1 and Type 2 clinics, Gestational Diabetes and Pregnancy in Diabetes clinics, the Insulin Pump Therapy Program and an Advanced Insulin class.

What would you like to say to someone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes?

Joyce Kutnikoff: It’s going to be OK. It is a lifestyle change and it sucks, but diabetes can be managed and we’re here to help you.

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