Diabetes Mellitus: Symptoms, Management, and Prevention

Diabetes Mellitus: Symptoms, Management, and Prevention
Brandon McClendon, ATC
Hughston Athletic Training Fellowship

Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which the body is unable to produce insulin or use it effectively. Diabetes affects nearly 18 million people in the United States, or 7% of the total population. Of these 18 million, 5 million are unaware of their condition.1 Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose (sugar) that is caused by defects in the production or management of insulin by the body. Insulin is the hormone that helps the body to use energy from food. Diabetes is primarily diagnosed in two forms or “classes”. These two classes are type I (insulin dependent) and type II (non-insulin dependent). Insulin is associated with the storage of carbohydrates in the body. Unless proper insulin levels are maintained, the body is unable to use carbohydrates as an energy source.

Types of diabetes

Type I diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin. Type I diabetes accounts for approximately 10% of all diabetes related cases. This particular class of diabetes is often present in people under the age of twenty. Medical research also points to a hereditary link between persons with diabetes. As there is no known cure for type I diabetes, those who are diagnosed must learn lifelong management skills to cope with the disease.

Type II diabetes accounts for approximately 90% of all cases and is characterized by the body’s inability to use insulin effectively. This is often due to a developing resistance to insulin, and a decrease in overall insulin production in the body.1 Although, there is a genetic predisposition to type II diabetes, there are a number of physical characteristics that can attribute to the preexisting risk factors of the disease. A sedentary life style combined with excessive body fat can increase the chances for developing diabetes.

Risk factors

The risk for diabetes occurrence tends increase with age. It is the primary cause of blindness and foot and leg amputations in adults. Early stages of diabetes can include long periods of hyperglycemia, or high blood-sugar levels. During this time, there are often no visible symptoms. As time passes, the body is unable to compensate for these elevated blood sugar levels.1 Common symptoms of hyperglycemia include increased urination (polyuria), excessive thirst (polydipsia), persistent hunger (polyphagia), and weight loss. Some patients can experience blurred vision as well. In addition to hyperglycemia, periods of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can occur. Symptoms of hypoglycemia (often similar to hyperglycemia) include weakness, polyuria, altered vision, and an increase in blood pressure.

Athletes with diabetes

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A multifaceted approach is necessary for the treatment and management of type I diabetes. At the forefront of treatment options are setting goals aimed at educating athletes about the disease. A stable nutritional intake and rigorous physical activity program can help to slow or prevent the onset of diabetes.1 The primary concern of diabetes treatment is to maintain a normal blood sugar level and prevent multiple complications that can occur with the disease. The regulation of blood sugar can be managed with insulin supplements and regular exercise. It is important that athletes with diabetes carry proper testing supplies and emergency food at all times in the event they experience hypoglycemia.

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Type II diabetes treatment tends to be easier to manage. The primary goal is the regulation of blood sugar, as with type I diabetes. Increased physical activity and changes in diet will generally decrease or prevent the progression of diabetes.1 If diet and exercise habits are not enough, patients may need to consult a physician to begin a cycle of regulatory medication. Many types of medication are used in the treatment of type II diabetes. A physician will prescribe medication best suited for the athlete’s individual needs.


Prevention of type II diabetes begins with increasing one’s knowledge about the disease. Staying informed, proper diet and exercise will decrease the risk of diabetes onset. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to a dangerous progression of symptoms, and can also be fatal. To minimize these risks, steps should be taken to avoid the onset of diabetes whenever possible. Athletes already dealing with diabetes should do all they can to manage their symptoms, and always be prepared for emergency situations.

Cuppett M, Walsh K. General Medical Conditions in the Athlete. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Mosby; 2005.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

  • Over 45 years of age
  • Body Mass Index >45
  • Relatives w/ Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Elevated Triglycerides

Brandon McClendon, ATC was a participant in the Hughston Athletic Training Fellowship Program, Columbus, Georgia from 2007-2008. He received his Bachelors of Science Degree in Athletic Training from Huntingdon College in May of 2007. While attending Huntingdon, Brandon completed rotations in all collegiate sports including baseball, football, basketball, and softball. He also completed rotations at many of the local high schools, as well as Faulkner University and Auburn University, Montgomery. Brandon was a member of the inaugural Huntingdon College football team and the first graduating class from this team. He is an active member of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Brandon has been assigned to and is responsible for the overall healthcare of the athletes at Northside High School during the 2007-2008 school year.