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Diabetes and HIV/AIDS

September 15, 2015

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Diabetes and HIV/AIDS

Table of Contents

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes and pre-diabetes are serious conditions in which people have high levels of sugar or glucose in their blood. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 347 million people worldwide have diabetes. In the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 29 million people have diabetes and at least 86 million adults over 20 have pre-diabetes. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, amputation, kidney failure, and cardiovascular disease; the WHO predicts that diabetes will become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.

Glucose is a type of sugar that is used as fuel by the body. When you eat, your body converts food into glucose. The glucose then goes into your bloodstream and is carried throughout the body to provide energy to all of your cells. In order for glucose to move from your bloodstream into your cells, you need insulin. Insulin carries the glucose, or sugar, in your bloodstream into your cells. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas.

If your body has a problem making or using insulin, the glucose in your bloodstream cannot get into your cells. As a result, glucose stays in the blood (high blood sugar) and the cells do not get enough. A diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes is made when glucose stays at higher than normal levels (also called hyperglycemia).

There are several types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes (Insulin Dependent)

  • The pancreas does not make any insulin
  • You must take insulin every day to survive
  • Usually begins in childhood or adolescence

Type 2 Diabetes (Non-insulin Dependent)

  • Your pancreas makes some insulin (but usually not enough), and/or the body does not respond normally to the insulin your body does make (sometimes referred to as 'insulin resistance')
  • Some people with type 2 diabetes are able to control it with diet and exercise; many others need diabetes medication, and some need insulin
  • Most common form of diabetes

Gestational Diabetes

  • Diabetes that starts during pregnancy due to hormones that prevent insulin from doing its job
  • Most women with gestational diabetes are able to control their diabetes and prevent harm to themselves and their babies; women with gestational diabetes tend to have large babies
  • Most often, blood sugar levels return to normal after delivery


  • Blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes
  • Having pre-diabetes puts you at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes; up to one in three people with pre-diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years if they do not lose weight and become physically active
  • Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented or delayed by making changes to your diet and increasing physical exercise

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is not a type of diabetes, but a cluster, or group of conditions usually associated with being overweight or obese. Metabolic syndrome is also called Syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome, and dysmetabolic syndrome. This group of traits puts people at risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A person has metabolic syndrome if they have three of the following five traits:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High blood glucose (high blood sugar)
  • High triglycerides (fats) in the blood
  • High cholesterol
  • Large waist (larger than 35 inches for women and larger than 40 inches for men)

Symptoms of Diabetes

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Need to urinate frequently
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Hunger
  • Blurry vision
  • Irritability
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Difficulty healing
  • Extreme fatigue

Symptoms typically occur when glucose levels have gotten very high. If you are diagnosed while diabetes is in its early stages, you may not have any symptoms.

Glucose (Blood Sugar) Tests

Since there are not always obvious symptoms of diabetes, it is important to have regular lab tests to check if your blood sugar or glucose levels are high. The most common glucose tests are:

  • Fasting glucose test: measures the glucose in a blood sample taken when you have not had anything to eat or drink (except water) for at least eight hours
  • Hemoglobin A1C test: measures your average blood sugar or blood glucose over the last two to three months. This test does not require fasting. It is used to monitor diabetes control as well as to help diagnosis it.

To find out if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, it is generally recommended that you have a fasting glucose test. A glucose tolerance test may be ordered to help diagnose diabetes and as a follow-up to a high fasting glucose level.

A diagnosis of diabetes can be made based on either of the following test results, confirmed by retesting on a different day:

  • A fasting blood glucose level of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher
  • An A1C of 6.5 percent or more (an A1C of 5.7 - 6.4 suggests pre-diabetes)

Who Is at Risk for Diabetes?

Anyone can get diabetes. However, certain factors may increase your risk, such as:

  • Taking certain protease inhibitors (PIs)
  • Being over 40
  • Being overweight or obese
  • A family history of the disease
  • A poor diet
  • Not being physically active
  • Smoking or using tobacco
  • A lot of fat around the belly (sometimes called 'central obesity;' having an apple-shaped body)
  • Hepatitis C or liver damage
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Having had gestational diabetes while pregnant
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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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