Did you know that one in ten people is diagnosed with diabetes at some point in their lives? Chances are, you know someone with the condition. But what exactly is diabetes? It's important to understand more about this common condition including the symptoms, causes, and if you are at risk of developing it. Read on to learn more about this condition.
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Diabetes mellitus is the official name for a chronic disease more widely known as diabetes. Patients with diabetes have high blood sugar for a prolonged time, which, when left untreated, can cause serious complications over time. Diabetes happens when your body can't make or use its own insulin.
Insulin is a hormone made in your pancreas that allows the sugar from the food you eat to enter your cells. Your cells then use that glucose as energy.
When your body doesn't make enough insulin, your cells can't get the glucose they need, and the glucose instead stays in your bloodstream. This is called high blood sugar or high blood glucose.
When a diabetic person's blood sugar spikes to dangerously high levels, it can cause life-threatening conditions like:
It can even cause death.
When someone is diagnosed with diabetes, they must check their blood sugar levels often, as these can spike and dip rapidly without the patient realizing it. As the disease progresses, diabetics are often prescribed insulin therapy, which can be administered in a few different ways:
Injections: Using a pen or syringe, the patient will inject themselves with their prescribed dose of insulin
Pump: A pump is connected to a tube that is semi-permanently installed under the patient's skin. It automatically delivers the prescribed dose of insulin at the right time.
Inhaler: This is usually used in conjunction with injections to deliver fast-acting insulin before meals
Some people can manage their diabetes without insulin by changing certain lifestyle factors, like diet and exercise levels.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes
Though both forms share some commonalities, there are a few key differences. Let's take a look at each condition and how they differ.
Type 1 diabetes was previously known as juvenile diabetes because it was often diagnosed in childhood. It is the more serious of the two types but only accounts for about 5%–10% of cases. Even though many people with this type of diabetes receive a diagnosis as a child or teenager, it can develop at any age.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, so it is characterized by an abnormal immune response. The body destroys cells that produce insulin, so people with type 1 diabetes can't produce insulin on their own. The main cause of type 1 diabetes is genetic factors and family history.
Type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed in adulthood, with the average age of onset around 45. In type 2 diabetes, your cells don't respond normally to insulin (known as insulin resistance). Your pancreas works overtime to create more insulin, but your cells still don't respond, leading to high blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes often develops over the course of years, and symptoms can sometimes be tricky to notice. Many people have blood sugar problems for years before they get a diagnosis.
This is why it's important to see your doctor regularly and understand the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. These include:
Being over the age of 45
Having a family history of diabetes
Being of African American, Latino, or Native American descent
If at risk, you may qualify for screening by your doctor.
If you are at risk of developing diabetes, it's a good idea to understand the symptoms of this condition. Only a medical professional can diagnose you, but recognizing the symptoms can help you get diagnosed quickly so you can avoid further complications.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes share many of the same symptoms. Here are some of the most common ones to look out for.
Rapid weight loss
Weakness or fatigue
Nausea or abdominal pain
Very dry skin
If you have any of these symptoms, it's a good idea to see your doctor. They can test your blood sugar with a fasting blood test (i.e. a blood test after not eating overnight), or a glucose tolerance test, where they measure your blood sugar before and after you drink a liquid that contains a lot of glucose.
The main cause of diabetes varies by type. As mentioned above, type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an immune system reaction. The body attacks itself, destroying the cells in your pancreas that create insulin. But what causes your immune system to have such an extreme reaction? Doctors and scientists still aren't sure, but believe it may be a combination of genes and environmental factors.
For those who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the main cause is thought to be an unhealthy lifestyle. If you are overweight or obese and don't get much exercise, you are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
As you age, it's essential to aim to exercise at least 90 minutes a week, avoid processed foods, and eat plenty of vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and lean protein.
In addition to the causes mentioned above, there are other potential causes for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Some people have the genes for type 1 diabetes but never develop it, which is why it's thought that certain environmental factors may trigger the condition in people who have the right genetic makeup.
These environmental factors are still being researched, but it's thought that a mother can increase the risk of her unborn child being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes whilst pregnant.
Higher maternal age, maternal obesity, and contracting an enterovirus during pregnancy may contribute to an unborn child's risk.
After a child is born, there may be a few other factors that can increase a child's risk of developing type 1 diabetes. These include environmental conditions like:
Contracting certain infections or viruses
An unhealthy gut biome
High levels of psychological stress
In the case of type 2 diabetes, genes play a role too. Although the biggest risk factors are being over 45 and leading an unhealthy lifestyle, if a parent, grandparent, or other close relative has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you are likely at a greater risk as well.
In addition, certain medications, pancreatic diseases, having high blood pressure, and experiencing a lot of stress in your life can also be contributing factors to type 2 diabetes.
While the best thing you can do to prevent the disease is cut out junk food and stay as active as possible, sometimes, it's impossible to prevent type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes alone.
People who are of African American, Latino, and Native American descent are statistically more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as well. However, the connection between race and diabetes is still being researched, and it's difficult to determine if the causes are genetic or environmental.
If you are concerned about your personal diabetes risk, talk to your doctor about your family history and what you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
This varies by type. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age, although if you're younger (i.e. a child or a teenager) a type 1 diabetes diagnosis is more common than a type 2 diagnosis.
Around 10% of people aged over 45 develop type 2 diabetes. So, the people who are most likely to develop type 2 diabetes usually:
Are over the age of 45
Lead an inactive lifestyle
Are overweight or obese
They may have an unhealthy diet and high blood pressure as well.
It's possible to have diabetes but not experience symptoms, so keep up with regular doctor appointments and blood testing. If you experience any of the symptoms of diabetes listed above, it's important to see your doctor as soon as possible. They can help rule out any other serious conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
Undiagnosed diabetes and uncontrolled high blood sugar can have dire consequences and wreak havoc on your body, so staying on top of your health is essential.
If your doctor thinks you may have type 1 diabetes, they may test your blood for certain autoantibodies, which are substances that indicate your body is attacking its own cells. These autoantibodies are often present in type 1 diabetes, but not in type 2.
Your doctor may also test your urine for ketones, which are molecules produced by the liver when your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose. The presence of ketones means your cells aren't using the glucose in your bloodstream.
The main way to diagnose diabetes is with a blood test. Doctors use one or both of the following tests:
Fasting blood test: Your blood sugar levels are tested after you haven't had anything to eat or drink other than water for eight to 12 hours.
Glucose tolerance test: This test involves fasting for eight to 12 hours, having your blood sugar measured, and then consuming a liquid containing glucose. Then your doctor will test your blood sugar after one hour, after two hours, and possibly after three hours.
Your doctor may also perform an A1C test, which is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar levels during the past three months. This can help your doctor spot any abnormalities in your blood sugar levels over time.
Once you have a diabetes diagnosis, your doctor will likely talk with you about treatment options:
Type 1 diabetes: You'll have to closely monitor your diet and blood sugar levels, and will need insulin therapy for the rest of your life. You'll have to inject yourself with insulin or have an insulin pump installed.
Type 2 diabetes: This condition may be managed in its early stages by changing your diet and exercising, but if the disease progresses, you'll likely need tablets or insulin therapy.
Diabetes mellitus is a group of conditions that includes both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a relatively rare autoimmune condition that is usually diagnosed in children, teenagers, and young adults, while type 2 diabetes is quite common, and is usually diagnosed in adults aged 45 or older. Both types of diabetes cause uncontrollable high blood sugar, which can lead to serious complications like heart problems, kidney problems, coma, and even death.
Though doctors and scientists have known about the existence of diabetes for more than 100 years, they still don't fully understand the causes of this disease, though it's thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
It's widely believed that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means it causes the body to attack itself and destroy cells that produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is often the result of an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle, though genetics still play a role. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by exercising regularly and eating fresh, healthy food.
Both forms of diabetes can be treated with insulin therapy. You'll need to closely monitor your blood sugar and strive to keep it as close to normal levels as possible.