What is Diabetes?
Diabetes happens when your body isn’t able to take up sugar (glucose) into its cells and use it for energy. This results in a buildup of extra sugar in your bloodstream.
The process of digestion includes breaking down the food you eat into various different nutrient sources. When you eat carbohydrates (for example, bread, rice, pasta), your body breaks this down into sugar (glucose). When glucose is in your bloodstream, it needs help – a “key” – to get into its final destination where it’s used, which is inside your body’s cells (cells make up your body’s tissues and organs). This help or “key” is insulin.
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas; an organ located behind your stomach. Your pancreas releases insulin into your bloodstream. Insulin acts as the “key” that unlocks the cell wall “door,” which allows glucose to enter your body’s cells. Glucose provides the “fuel” or energy tissues and organs need to properly function.
Types of Diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes: This type is an autoimmune disease, meaning your body attacks itself. In this case, the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas are destroyed. Up to 10% of people who have diabetes have Type 1. It’s usually diagnosed in children and young adults (but can develop at any age). It was once better known as “juvenile” diabetes. People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day. This is why it is also called insulin-dependent diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes: With this type, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or your body’s cells don’t respond normally to the insulin. This is the most common type of diabetes. Up to 95% of people with diabetes have Type 2. It usually occurs in middle-aged and older people. Other common names for Type 2 include adult-onset diabetes and insulin-resistant diabetes. Your parents or grandparents may have called it “having a touch of sugar.”
- Prediabetes: This type is the stage before Type 2 diabetes. Your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be officially diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes: This type develops in some women during their pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy. However, if you have gestational diabetes, you’re at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life.
Risk factors of diabetes
- Having a family history (parent or sibling)
- Injury to the pancreas (such as by infection, tumor, surgery or accident).
- Presence of autoantibodies (antibodies that mistakenly attack your own body’s tissues or organs).
- Physical stress (such as surgery or illness).
- Exposure to illnesses caused by viruses.
- Being overweight.
- Having high blood pressure.
- Having low HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and high triglyceride level.
- Being physically inactive.
- Age group (45 years above for type 2 and 25 years for gestational diabetes)
- Having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Having a history of heart disease or stroke.
- Being a smoker.
Causes of diabetes
- Causes of Type 1 diabetes: This is an immune system disease. Your body attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. Without insulin to allow glucose to enter your cells, glucose builds up in your bloodstream. Genes may also play a role in some patients. Also, a virus may trigger the immune system attack.
- Cause of Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes: Your body’s cells don’t allow insulin to work as it should to let glucose into its cells. Your body’s cells have become resistant to insulin. Your pancreas can’t keep up and make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Glucose levels rise in your bloodstream.
- Gestational diabetes: Hormones produced by the placenta during your pregnancy make your body’s cells more resistant to insulin. Your pancreas can’t make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Too much glucose remains in your bloodstream.
Symptoms of diabetes
- Increased thirst.
- Weak, tired feeling.
- Blurred vision.
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet.
- Slow-healing sores or cuts.
- Unplanned weight loss.
- Frequent urination.
- Frequent unexplained infections.
- Dry mouth.
Prevention of diabetes
- Eat a healthy diet. Keep a food diary and calorie count of everything you eat. Cutting 250 calories per day can help you lose ½ pound per week.
- Get physically active. Aim for 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. Start slow and work up to this amount or break up these minutes into more doable 10-minute segments. Walking is great exercise.
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Don’t lose weight if you are pregnant, but check with your obstetrician about healthy weight gain during your pregnancy.
- Lower your stress. Learn relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, mindful meditation, yoga and other helpful strategies.
- Limit alcohol intake. Men should drink no more than two alcoholic beverages a day; women should drink no more than one.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep (typically 7 to 9 hours).
- Quit smoking.
- Take medications – to manage existing risk factors for heart disease (e.g., high blood pressure, cholesterol) or to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes – as directed by your healthcare provider.
- If you think you have symptoms of prediabetes, see your provider.
Treatment of diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes: If you have this type, you must take insulin every day. Your pancreas no longer makes insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes: If you have this type, your treatments can include medications (both for diabetes and for conditions that are risk factors for diabetes), insulin and lifestyle changes such as losing weight, making healthy food choices and being more physically active.
- Prediabetes: If you have prediabetes, the goal is to keep you from progressing to diabetes. Treatments are focused on treatable risk factors, such as losing weight by eating a healthy diet and exercising (at least five days a week for 30 minutes). Many of the strategies used to prevent diabetes are the same as those recommended to treat diabetes (see prevention section of this article).
- Gestational diabetes: If you have this type and your glucose level is not too high, your initial treatment might be modifying your diet and getting regular exercise. If the target goal is still not met or your glucose level is very high, your healthcare team may start medication or insulin.