Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it makes. Insulin is a hormone in your pancreas that allows sugar from foods to enter your cells and be used for energy.
There are a few different types of diabetes, each with its causes and symptoms. Being aware of the signs and risk factors for diabetes is crucial, as early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or delay serious complications. This article will explore the various types of diabetes, distinctive symptoms, common causes, diagnosis, and prevention.
What is Diabetes? How To Prevent It?
Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels and the inability to properly regulate glucose in the bloodstream. Abnormally high blood sugar is known as hyperglycemia. It happens when the body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot adequately use the insulin it makes.
Insulin is required to move sugar from the blood into the cells to be used for energy. When sugar cannot enter the cells, it accumulates in the bloodstream. This causes the hallmark signs of diabetes, like increased thirst and frequent urination, as the kidneys try to filter out excess sugar.
High blood sugar from uncontrolled diabetes can eventually cause serious damage to various organs and tissues in the body. Maintaining healthy blood glucose levels with proper treatment is crucial for people with diabetes to avoid complications.
What are the 3 Main types of diabetes?
There are a few main types of diabetes:
1. Type 1 Diabetes
2. Type 2 Diabetes
3. Gestational Diabetes
Each type has different causes and risk factors but shares the common problem of blood glucose dysregulation.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, once called juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This leaves the body unable to produce enough insulin to properly regulate blood sugar levels.
Type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood or young adulthood, but it can develop at any age. Without treatment with daily insulin injections or an insulin pump, type 1 diabetes is fatal. About 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, accounting for around 90-95% of diabetes cases. It mainly develops in adults but is increasingly occurring in children due to rising childhood obesity rates.
In type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin effects. The beta cells initially produce more insulin to overcome the resistance but eventually tire out. Over time, insulin production declines and blood sugar rises.
Whereas type 1 diabetes is irreversible autoimmune destruction of insulin production, type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition that can potentially be delayed or reversed through weight loss, nutrition, and physical activity in the early stages.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in women who did not previously have diabetes. Hormonal changes in pregnancy can disrupt insulin regulation, causing high blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes usually resolves after childbirth but substantially increases a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Controlling blood sugar during pregnancy is important for the mother’s and developing baby’s health.
How common is diabetes?
The rates of diabetes have been steadily increasing both in the U.S. and globally. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that approximately 537 million adults worldwide have diabetes as of 2021. This number is projected to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045.
In the United States, the latest 2020 statistics from the CDC show that 37.3 million people – approximately 11.3% of the total population – have diabetes. Of these, an estimated 7.3 million cases are undiagnosed. The prevalence of diabetes also disproportionately impacts minority populations.
With the high and climbing rates of diabetes worldwide, awareness and prevention are more important than ever.
Symptoms and Causes
Diabetes symptoms can develop gradually over months or years. Many people have diabetes for a long time without realizing it until complications arise. Being familiar with the most common signs of diabetes is key to getting diagnosed and treated early.
When to see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following diabetes symptoms:
- Frequent urination and increased thirst – This is a classic sign as excess sugar spills into the urine pulling fluid from the body.
- Increased hunger – The inability to move sugar into cells leaves the body feeling hungry as cells lack energy.
- Unexplained weight loss – The body starts burning fat and muscle for energy when it cannot utilize glucose properly.
- Fatigue – Lack of glucose for cell energy leads to constant tiredness and weakness.
- Blurred vision – Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause temporary swelling in the lenses of the eyes and vision changes.
- Slow healing cuts/bruises – High blood sugar impacts circulation and the ability to heal wounds.
- Tingling or numbness in hands/feet – Nerve damage from diabetes causes reduced sensation in extremities.
If you are experiencing any combination of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor for blood tests to check for diabetes. Getting diagnosed and beginning treatment early is crucial.
What causes diabetes?
The causes of diabetes differ depending on the type:
Type 1 Diabetes
Autoimmune disorder – The immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The exact trigger is unknown but genetics and environmental factors play a role.
Type 2 Diabetes
Excess weight – Carrying extra body fat interferes with the body’s ability to use insulin properly.
Inactivity – Lack of exercise contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Family history – Having a close relative with type 2 diabetes increases your risk.
Poor diet – Diets high in processed carbs, sugar, and unhealthy fats increase diabetes risk.
Ethnicity – People of African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, or Asian descent have increased risk.
Age – Risk rises as you get older, especially after age 45.
Hormonal changes of pregnancy – Estrogen, progesterone, and human placental lactogen disrupt insulin regulation.
Family history – Having a close female relative with gestational diabetes or type 2 diabetes raises your risk.
Excess weight before pregnancy – Higher pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) increases the chances of developing gestational diabetes.
What are the complications of diabetes?
Persistently high blood sugar levels from uncontrolled diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves over time leading to various complications:
Heart disease and stroke – Increased risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke.
Nerve damage (neuropathy) – Numbness, pain, and reduced sensation in hands and feet.
Kidney disease (nephropathy) – Damage to small blood vessels in the kidneys can lead to kidney failure.
Eye damage (retinopathy) – Blood vessel damage in the eyes causing vision loss or blindness.
Foot damage – Poor circulation and neuropathy increase the risk of skin sores, infections, and limb amputation.
Skin conditions – Increased infections and slow healing of cuts, scrapes, or wounds.
Hearing impairment – High blood sugar affects the small blood vessels of the inner ear.
Alzheimer’s disease – Type 2 diabetes increases risk of dementia.
Careful control of blood sugar levels can prevent or delay the onset of complications.
Diagnosis and Tests
If symptoms suggest diabetes, physicians will run blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. These include:
Fasting blood glucose – Blood sugar levels are measured after 8 hours of fasting. 126 mg/dL and above indicates diabetes.
Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) – Blood sugar is measured 2 hours after consuming a sugary drink. 200 mg/dL or higher confirms diabetes.
Hemoglobin A1C – This blood test gauges average blood sugar over the past 2-3 months. 6.5% or greater indicates diabetes.
Random blood sugar tests – Levels over 200 mg/dL combined with symptoms can diagnose diabetes.
Doctors also test for the presence of autoantibodies in the blood to differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The specific tests ordered may vary based on patient presentation.
While some forms of diabetes cannot be prevented, taking certain steps can greatly lower your chances of developing type 2 diabetes:
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Carrying excess pounds, especially around the abdomen, is a primary risk factor. Even modest weight loss can dramatically reduce risk.
Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking. Physical activity makes cells more sensitive to insulin.
Follow a nutritious diet. Choose whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil. Avoid high-sugar and high-glycemic index foods.
Limit alcohol intake. Heavy alcohol consumption is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes risk. Moderation is key.
Don’t smoke. Smoking raises diabetes risk. If you currently smoke, quitting can help prevent diabetes.
Get enough sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to disrupted glucose metabolism. A
Diabetes is a serious chronic disease affecting millions of people globally. The main types of diabetes each have different underlying causes but share the common feature of abnormal blood sugar regulation. Awareness of the signs and symptoms, like increased thirst and frequent urination, allows for early diagnosis and treatment to prevent complications.
While type 1 diabetes is an irreversible autoimmune disease requiring insulin therapy, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable through weight management, nutrition, physical activity, and not smoking. If you are experiencing any potential diabetes symptoms, see your doctor promptly for blood tests. Keeping blood glucose levels controlled, whether through lifestyle changes, oral medications, or insulin, is crucial for preserving health and avoiding diabetes-related nerve, kidney, eye, and cardiovascular damage.
With diabetes prevalence continuing to climb worldwide, greater public awareness and preventative steps are key. Understanding the different types of diabetes, their distinguishing origins, and symptoms empowers individuals to better safeguard their health.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or early adulthood, while type 2 diabetes primarily occurs in adults; however, type 2 is becoming more common in youth due to increasing childhood obesity. Type 1 also has a sudden onset of severe symptoms, while type 2 has a more gradual onset. Doctors can test for the presence of autoantibodies and insulin production to confirm type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes.
The main difference is that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance and steadily declining insulin production over time. Genetics play a larger role in type 1 while lifestyle factors like obesity and poor diet are bigger contributors to type 2 diabetes development.
It is possible, but unlikely, for type 2 diabetes to be misdiagnosed as type 1 if autoantibody testing is not done. Type 1 diabetes onset occurs predominantly in youth, while type 2 primarily develops in adults. Doctors also look at patient and family history and the overall clinical presentation. Blood tests help confirm the diabetes type.
The 4 main types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, gestational diabetes, and monogenic diabetes. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes make up the majority of cases. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy while monogenic diabetes is caused by single gene mutations. Other rarer forms include cystic fibrosis-related diabetes and steroid-induced diabetes.
Both types of diabetes are serious if blood glucose levels are poorly controlled. Type 1 diabetes can be considered more immediately dangerous in that people with type 1 depend on daily insulin injections for survival. Without insulin, type 1 diabetes leads to diabetic ketoacidosis, coma, and death. Both types substantially raise the risk of long-term complications if not managed appropriately.