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Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the body loses its ability to produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that controls sugar levels in the blood.
In response to the growing concerns about the health threat posed by diabetes, the World Health Organization dubbed Nov. 14 World Diabetes Day, which is aimed at raising awareness and funds to support the disease.
According to Diabetes Canada, there are more than 5.7 million Canadians currently living with diagnosed diabetes (type 1 or type 2).
Additionally, there are 11.7 million Canadians living with prediabetes — an undiagnosed form that can develop into type 2 diabetes if left unmanaged.
Considering the risks associated with diabetes, it's important to learn more about the condition and the warning signs in order to get an early diagnosis.
What are the different types of diabetes?
As per the Government of Canada, there are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, meaning the person is dependent on an external source of insulin. This type typically develops in children and youth, but it can also occur in adults.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. This happens when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and/or when the body does not properly use the insulin produced. People who are overweight , physically inactive, or those who have a family history of diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. It typically appears in adults older than 40 years, but it can also occur at a younger age.
Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women when high blood sugar levels develop during pregnancy. Although this type usually disappears after the baby is born, it increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?
Early signs and symptoms are roughly the same for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The most common symptoms of the condition are as follows:
Weight change (gain or loss)
Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
Frequent or recurring infections
Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
If you or a loved one experience any of the above symptoms, or suspect you might have diabetes, contact a medical professional as soon as possible.
Read on to learn about the personal and unique experience of Connor Chambers, who's been living with type 1 diabetes since 2010.
'Looking back, there were clear warning signs'
Chambers began experiencing unusual symptoms in elementary school, but originally thought nothing of it.
"When I was young I would have a slushy or a really sugary piece of food and I would end up feeling super ill afterwards," the 27-year-old recalled in an interview with Yahoo Canada. "I didn't think it was a big deal, but it was definitely an early sign of type 1 diabetes."
However, in 2010 the symptoms became more obvious. He became "extremely thirsty" which caused frequent urination, and despite drinking "upwards of 10 litres of water a day," he was unable to quench his thirst.
"Those symptoms led me to see a doctor. They sent me for bloodwork and my glucose was extremely high because I didn't have insulin in my body," he said.
When he was diagnosed, Chambers was initially concerned about the physical aspects of managing the condition — in particular, the fact that he'd have to manually inject insulin into his body.
"I was uneasy about having needles daily...it seemed scary. But I learned the needles weren't the biggest issue — there's a lot more at stake and other impacts to your health if you don't do it," he explained.
'You can still live a full life with diabetes'
While Chambers learned more about his condition and how to manage it, there was still one thing on his mind — would he still be able to live a full life?
"I didn't know if I would be able to do everything I wanted to do, and I didn't know if it would still allow me to succeed," he said. "Ultimately, I made lifestyle adjustments that have helped me to live a very full life."
According to Chambers, the biggest challenge to living with diabetes is the "time commitment" needed to maintain good health.
"Its taxing thinking about the disease every day. Every time you eat, exercise, go to bed, wake up...You're always considering your blood sugar and how to best manage it," he revealed.
Despite this, Chambers quickly learned that his disease does not define him, and wants other people living with the condition to know that there's hope.
"With type 1 or any kind of diabetes, it doesn't hinder your ability to be successful. There are things to worry about and manage, but that doesn't mean that people living with diabetes can't do certain things," he added.
'Stay consistent and build good habits'
When it comes to advice for people living with diabetes, Chambers was a beacon of hope.
"There's a community of people living with diabetes and it's important to connect with those people," he suggested. "Don't let diabetes control you either. A friend once said, 'you can be a victim or you can be a victor,' so it's important to keep pushing forward, even in tough times."
Despite the "extra weight and burden" that comes with managing diabetes, Chambers also explained that developing a routine with healthy habits is one of the keys to success.
"Diabetes can be challenging at the most inconvenient times. But consistency can help you stay on track," he said. "It's also important to be honest about your overall health and needs with diabetes to get the support you deserve, but you shouldn't be fearful of the condition."