What is Diabetes?

by | Jan 17, 2022

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects about 10% of Americans, over 34 million people. Words like hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia can be confusing, but we will help you understand the highs and lows of diabetes and how to manage them. Learn how diet, medication, and exercise impact blood sugar levels. For children with diabetes, it’s critical to have a plan in place, so we’ll provide resources for healthy snacks and for developing a diabetes management plan for students and pre-schoolers.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns to sugar (glucose) into energy. Our bodies use sugar for fuel. Just like your car, if your fuel tank is too empty or too full, you can have problems!

What is Normal Blood Sugar?

Diabetics should make sure they are checking their blood sugar before strenuous activity and that they have snacks available in case blood sugar drops during exercise

“Normal” Blood Sugar level varies by age and it varies throughout the day. When you fill your tank by eating, your blood sugar levels will go up. When you burn fuel through exercise, movement, and just normal daily activities, your blood sugar levels will go down. Blood sugar levels are usually lowest first thing in the morning since you’ve been fasting overnight. You want to make sure your tank is “full” before you start exercising.

What is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is commonly referred to as low blood sugar.

Have you ever had a day when you overslept and skipped breakfast? Then you didn’t have time for lunch? You may start feeling dizzy, seeing spots, even feeling “hangry”. When you feel like that, you have low blood sugar. For someone with diabetes, this happens more often.

When someone has low blood sugar, remember “The Rule of 15”. 

  • Eat or drink 15 grams of carbohydrates
  • Wait 15 minutes
  • Test blood sugar. If still low, repeat. 
  • If it’s going to be more than an hour until the next meal, also eat a protein snack to keep blood sugar normal.

What does 15 grams of carbohydrates look like?

  • An 8 oz glass of milk
  • 4 oz of regular soda (not diet) or fruit juice
  • A slice of bread
  • 2 Saltine Crackers
  • A “Fun Pack” size of Skittles (great option to keep handy for children with diabetes)
  • Click here for more ideas

What is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia is commonly referred to as high blood sugar. 

One of the first signs that a person may notice for high blood sugar is excessive thirst and frequent urination. If someone is drinking water constantly and is still thirsty after they drink, that’s a sign of high blood sugar. Likewise, if they are frequently going to the bathroom, that is a sign of high blood sugar.

It may be tempting to reduce the amount of water consumed, but you don’t want to do that. The water is actually flushing out the excess sugar. Excessive thirst is our body’s natural way of taking care of itself! 

Other signs of hyperglycemia are 

  • Headaches.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Fatigue (weak, tired feeling)
  • Weight loss.

Hyperglycemia requires medication to lower blood sugar. Have a plan in place with your health care provider for managing hyperglycemia. Left untreated hyperglycemia can result in a diabetic coma and death.

Managing Blood Sugar Levels

Managing blood sugar is like balancing a 3 legged stool: diet, exercise, and medication. If one leg gets out of balance, the stool is going to tip over.


According to the American Diabetes Association, “Everyone’s body responds differently to different types of foods and diets, so there is no single “magic” diet for diabetes.” In general, diabetics should choose low-glycemic options and eat a balanced diet of non-starchy vegetables, protein, and appropriate portions of carbohydrate foods. 

American Diabetes Association


Regular exercise lowers blood sugar in the short term and A1C in the long term. A good goal is 150 minutes of exercise per week.


Work with your health care provider to understand the effects of the medication being used to manage your diabetes. For instance, rapid-acting insulin brings down your blood sugar quickly. This is good if your blood sugar is too high. However, if you take rapid-acting insulin on an empty stomach and then go exercise, your blood sugar may drop to dangerous levels.

Have a plan

For children that are diabetics, develop a written plan with the parents, teachers, and health care professionals so you know what to do in case of an emergency. 

Plans for school-age children and pre-school children are available at diabetes.org

More Resources

Did you know there is a link between dementia, diabetes, and UTIs? It can create a challenging puzzle when caring for seniors. It can be difficult for a caregiver to know where one stops and the next starts. Learn about this connection here.

About First Response

First Response provides CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety training to clients across Georgia and South Carolina for over 23 years. We believe training should be relevant, informative, and fun! Feedback from our clients consistently shows that they not only enjoy our classes, they learn something new–even for folks that have taken the class many times before.

Contact us to book a class for your facility, or sign up for a class here.

About the Author

<a href="https://www.firstresponsecpr.com/blog/author/kellyenser/" target="_self">Kelly Enser</a>

Kelly Enser

CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety Instructor

Kelly is one of the co-founders of First Response and have taught CPR, First Aid, and Fire Safety since 2000. She primarily is the class coordinator for First Response which means she works with our great customers to organize trainings across Georgia and South Carolina. Due to this experience she is deeply aware of the needs and legal requirements for Child Care, Elder Care, Foster Care Parents, and any other industry that needs safety training. All of this provides a unique perspective for all of the articles she writes.

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