Diabetes is a condition that impairs the ability of your body to process blood glucose, otherwise called blood sugar.
Glucose is important to your health because it is a vital source of energy for the cells that make up the muscles and tissues in the body. It is also the source of the brain’s fuel.
The number of people above 18 years of age diagnosed and undiagnosed with diabetes in the United States is 30.2 million. That figure is about 27.9 and 32.7 percent of the U.S. population.
Without careful, ongoing management of diabetes, it can lead to a buildup of sugar in the blood and increase the risk of dangerous complications like heart disease and stroke.
The underlying cause of diabetes varies by type, but no matter the type of diabetes you have, it can lead to too much sugar in the blood. There are many types of diabetes and managing it depends on the type.
Leading an inactive lifestyle or being overweight is not the cause of all forms of diabetes. In fact, some are already present from childhood.
Chronic diabetes conditions include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetes conditions include gestational diabetes – this occurs during pregnancy but may resolve on its own after the baby is delivered – and prediabetes, which is when the blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not enough to be classified as diabetes.
Types of diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes
- Diabetes LADA
- diabetes MODY
- double diabetes
- type 3 diabetes
- steroid-induced diabetes
- brittle diabetes
- secondary diabetes
- diabetes insipidus
- juvenile diabetes
Understanding types of diabetes
There are 3 major types of diabetes. They include type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.
#1. Type 1 diabetes
This type of diabetes is also called juvenile diabetes. It occurs when the body fails to produce insulin. The body breaks down the carbohydrates into the blood sugar the body uses for energy – and insulin is a hormone needed by the body to get glucose from the body cells.
Anyone with type 1 diabetes is insulin-dependent, so they must take artificial insulin daily to live a normal life.
Type 1 diabetes occurs at every age, in people of every race, size and shape. There is no shame in having it because you have a lot of people that are ready to support you. That is why it is important to learn about it and work closely with a diabetes care team that can give you everything you need to live with it without affecting your normal life.
#2. Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common diabetes. It affects the way your body uses insulin. Unlike in type 1 diabetes, the body makes insulin, but the cells of the body don’t respond to it as effectively as they normally do.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, this is the most common type of diabetes, and it has strong links with obesity.
While some people can control their blood sugar levels with exercise and healthy eating, others may need insulin or medication to help manage it. Whichever way, you have resources, tools and support to help you fight it.
#3. Gestational diabetes
This diabetes can be a scary diagnosis, but like other types of diabetes, it is one you can manage. Gestational diabetes occurs in women during pregnancy when their body become less sensitive to insulin. It doesn’t occur in all women and usually resolves after giving birth.
It doesn’t mean that you had diabetes before you conceive or that you’ll have it after giving birth. It means that working with your doctor will help you have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Be sure to work with your doctor to stay healthy and keep your baby healthy.
Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
With this type of diabetes, there are no clear symptoms, so you may have it and not know. But here is why it is important to know you have it: before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have prediabetes. You may have some symptoms of diabetes or some of the complications.
Regardless, visit your doctor and get tested. If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, understand that it doesn’t mean you will have type 2 diabetes, especially if you follow a treatment plan and an exercise routine and diet. In fact, a small change can have a big impact on managing or preventing this disease- so see your doctor and get tested.
A rare condition called diabetes insipidus is not the same thing as diabetes mellitus but similar in name. It is a different condition in which your kidneys remove too much fluid from your body.
Each type of diabetes has unique symptoms, causes and treatments. Just visit your doctor to know the type you have and how you can treat it.
How insulin problems develop?
Doctors don’t know the real cause of type 1 diabetes, but type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance), has clearer causes.
Your body’s insulin allows the glucose from the food you eat to access the cells in your body to supply energy. Insulin resistance is usually because of the following cycle:
- a person has an environment or genes that make it impossible to make enough insulin to cover how much glucose they consume.
- The body tries to make extra insulin to process the excess glucose in the blood.
- The pancreas cannot keep up with the increased demands, and the excess blood sugar begins to circulate in the body, causing damage.
- Over time, insulin becomes less effective at introducing glucose to cells, and blood sugar levels continue to rise.
When it comes to type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance takes place gradually. That is why doctors always recommend making a lifestyle change to reverse or slow this cycle.
Symptoms of diabetes
Diabetes symptoms are caused by rising blood sugar.
General symptoms of diabetes
- Weight loss
- Blurry vision
- Increased hunger
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Sores that don’t heal
- Extreme fatigue
Symptoms of diabetes in men
Aside from the general symptoms of diabetes listed above, men with diabetes may have poor muscle strength, erectile dysfunction (ED) and decreased sex drive.
Symptoms of diabetes in women
Women with diabetes can also have symptoms like yeast infections, dry, itchy skin and urinary tract infections in addition to the general symptoms.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Blurry vision
- Unintentional weight loss
- Extreme hunger
The condition may result in mood change.
Type 2 diabetes symptoms
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Sores that are slow to heal
- Blurry vision
- Increased urination
This condition may also cause recurring infections because elevated glucose levels make it difficult for the body to heal.
Symptoms of gestational diabetes
Most women who have this type of diabetes don’t have any symptoms. Gestational diabetes is often detected during routine oral glucose tolerance test or blood sugar test that is usually performed between 24th and 28th weeks of gestation.
In rare cases, women who have this type of condition will also experience increased urination or thirst.
Understanding what causes diabetes
If you want to understand diabetes, it is important to first understand how glucose is processed in the body.
How insulin works
Insulin is pancreas (a hormone that comes from the gland located behind and below the stomach).
- The pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream.
- The insulin circulates and allows sugar to enter the cells
- Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in the bloodstream
- As the blood level drops, the secretion of insulin from the pancreas also drops
The role of glucose
Glucose – a sugar – is the source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and other tissues.
- Glucose mainly comes from your liver and food
- Sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream, where it enters cells with the insulin help
- Your liver stores and makes glucose
- When the glucose levels are low, such as when you have not eaten in a while, your liver breaks down stored glycogen into glucose to keep glucose level within the normal range.
Causes of diabetes
Different causes are associated with each type of diabetes.
Causes of type 1 diabetes
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not known. For some reasons, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This leaves you with little or no insulin. So instead of sugar being transported into the cells, it builds up in the bloodstream.
In some people, genes may play a big role, while it is possible that a virus sets off the immune system attack.
Causes of type 2 diabetes
Genetics and lifestyle factors are the causes of type 2 diabetes. Being obese or overweight also increases your risk. When you carry extra weight, especially in your belly, it makes your cells more resistant to the insulin effect on your blood sugar.
This condition runs in families. Because family members share genes, families that have people with type 2 diabetes are at risk of type 2 diabetes and being overweight.
Causes of gestational diabetes
This type of diabetes is the result of hormonal change during pregnancy. The placenta produces hormones that make a pregnant woman’s cells less sensitive to the insulin effects. This can cause high blood sugar during pregnancy.
A woman who gains too much weight during pregnancy or overweight when pregnant is more likely to get gestational diabetes.
Diabetes risk factors
Risk factors for diabetes depend on the type of diabetes.
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes
If you are a child, you are more likely to get type 1 diabetes. Also, if you are a teenager and you carry certain genes that are linked to the condition or you have a parent or sibling with the condition, you are more likely to get it.
Environmental factors such as exposure to a viral illness may likely play some role in this condition. Geography is another risk factor because countries like Sweden and Finland have higher rates of type 1 diabetes.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes
Researchers don’t fully understand why some people develop type 2 diabetes and others also don’t. But certain factors increase the risk:
- Being overweight or obese
- If you are age 45 or older
- Have prediabetes
- Have a parent or sibling with the condition
- Have had gestational diabetes
- Have high blood pressure, high triglycerides or high cholesterol
- You have African American, Asian American, American Indian, Pacific Islander, Alaska Native or Latino American ancestry.
- Have ovary or polycystic syndrome
Risk factors for gestational diabetes
Any pregnant woman can develop gestational diabetes, but some women are at greater risk than others. Here is what puts you at risk for gestational diabetes:
- If you are a woman older than 25 years
- Being overweight
- Have given birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds
- Have had gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- You are a black woman, American Indian, Asian or Hispanic.
High blood sugar destroys organs and tissues throughout your body. The longer you live with higher blood sugar without treatment, the greater the risk for complication.
Complications associated with diabetes include:
- Stroke, heart attack and heart disease
- Hearing loss
- Dementia e.g. Alzheimer’s
- Skin conditions like infections and sores that don’t heal
- Foot damage like infections and sores that don’t heal
- Vision loss and retinopathy
Complications of gestational diabetes
Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can lead to problems affecting the mother and baby. The followings are complications that can affect the baby if the condition is not managed:
- Low blood sugar
- Premature birth
- Increased risk for type 2 diabetes later in life
- Higher-than-normal weight at birth
The mother can develop complications like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure (preeclampsia). She may also require cesarean delivery known as a C-section. She also risks gestational diabetes in a future pregnancy.
Treatment of diabetes
Doctors treat diabetes with a few different medications. Some of the medications are available as injections, while others can be taken by mouth.
Treatment of type 1 diabetes
The main treatment for this type of condition is insulin. It replaces hormone the body is not able to produce.
Doctors commonly use four types of insulin. They are different by how quickly they begin to work and how long the effects last. Here are the four types of insulin commonly used:
- Rapid-acting insulin, which begins to work within 15 minutes and effective for 3-4 hours
- Short-acting insulin, which begins to work within 30 minutes and effective for 6-8 hours
- Intermediate-acting insulin, which begins to work within 1-2hours and effective for 12-18 hours
- Long-acting insulin, which begins to work a few hours after injection and effective for 24 or more hours.
Treatment of type 2 diabetes
Exercise and diet can help some people manage their type 2 diabetes. If lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your blood sugar, you will need to take medication to lower your blood sugar in a variety of ways. Some of the drugs are:
- Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors: Example of these drugs includes miglitol (Glyset) and Acarbose (Precose). These types of drugs slow your body breakdown of sugar and starchy foods.
- Biguanides: Example includes metroformin (Glucophage). It reduces the amount of glucose your liver makes.
- DPP-4 inhibitors: Examples include sitagliptin (Januvia), saxagliptin (Onglyza) and linagliptin (Tradjenta). These drugs improve your blood sugar without making it drop too low.
- Glicagon-like peptides: Examples include liraglutide (Victoza), exenatide (Byetta) and Dulaglutide (Trulicity). These drugs change the way your body produces insulin.
- Meglitinides: Examples are repaglinide (Prandin) and nateglinide (Starlix). These drugs stimulate your pancreas to release more insulin.
- SGLT2 inhibitors: Examples are dapagliflozin (Farxiga) and canagliflozin (Invokana). They release more glucose into the urine.
- Sulfonylureas: Examples include glimepiride (Amaryl), glipizide (Glucotrol) and glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase). They stimulate your pancreas to release more insulin.
- Thiazolidinediones: Examples are rosiglitazone (Avandia) and pioglitazone (Actos). They help insulin work well.
To manage your type 2 diabetes, you may need to take more than one of the above drugs. In fact, you may also need to take insulin. So see your doctor.
Treatment of gestational diabetes
During pregnancy, you will need to monitor your blood sugar level many times a day. If it is high, exercise and dietary changes may or may not be sufficient to bring it down.
The doctor may ask you to take insulin to lower your blood sugar. Insulin is safe for your growing baby.
Diabetes and diet
The most important way to manage diabetes is healthy eating. In some cases, changing your diet alone may be enough to control the disease.
Type 1 diabetes and diet
Your blood sugar rises or falls based on the food you consume. Sugary and starchy foods make blood sugar levels rise rapidly. Fat and protein cause more gradual increases.
Your medical team may ask you to limit the number of carbohydrates you consume each day. You will need to balance carb intake with your insulin doses.
Work with a dietician who can help you design a diabetes meal plan. It is important to get the right balance of carbs, fat and protein to control your blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes and diet
Consuming the right type of foods will not only help you control your blood sugar but also help you lose any excess weight.
Counting carb is a vital part of eating for type 2 diabetes. A dietician can help you figure the number of carbohydrates to eat at each meal.
To keep your blood sugar levels steady, eat small meals throughout the day. Consume healthy foods like:
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil
- Lean protein such as fish and poultry
Certain other foods can undermine your efforts to keep blood sugar in check.
Gestational diabetes and diet
During the nine months of pregnancy, eating a well-balanced diet is vital for both you and your baby. You can avoid diabetes medications if you make the right food choices.
Watch your portion size, and limit your salty or sugary foods. Although you need some sugar to feed the growing baby, try to avoid eating too much.
Seek the help of a dietician to make an eating plan that ensures your diet has the right mix of macronutrients.
Exercise and diet tips for diabetes
When someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by a doctor, doctors often recommend making lifestyle changes to support weight loss and overall health.
The doctor may also refer a person with prediabetes or diabetes to a nutritionist. A specialist can help such person lead an active, balanced lifestyle and manage diabetes.
Here is how to embrace a lifestyle with diabetes:
- Eating a diet high in fresh, nutritious foods like low-fat dairy, healthy fat sources like nuts, lean protein, vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
- Avoid high-sugar foods that offer empty calories, or calories without nutritional benefits, such as high-sugar desserts, fried foods and sweetened sodas.
- Engage in at least 30-minute exercise a day on at least 5 days of the week, such as swimming, riding a bike, walking or aerobics.
- Refrain from drinking excessive alcohol or keep intake to less than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women.
- Recognize signs of low blood sugar when exercising, including profuse sweating, weakness, confusion and dizziness.
Someone with diabetes can also try to reduce body mass index (BMI), which in turn can help manage type 2 diabetes conditions without medication. Slow, steady weight loss goals will likely help a person retain long-term benefits.
How much insulin is too much?
Insulin helps people with diabetes live an active lifestyle, but it can lead to serious side effects, especially if one takes too much of it.
Taking excessive insulin can cause extremely low blood sugar or hypoglycemia and lead to shaking, sweating and nausea.
It is important that people measure insulin carefully, especially with the help of a doctor and eat a consistent diet that balanced blood sugar levels as much as possible.
If you have symptoms of diabetes or you know you are at risk for it, you should get tested. Women are routinely tested for gestational diabetes during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Doctors use a glucose blood test to diagnose diabetes and prediabetes:
- The FPG (fasting plasma glucose) test measures the blood sugar after you have fasted for 8 hours.
- The A1C test offers a snapshot of the blood sugar levels over the previous three months.
Your doctor will test your blood sugar levels between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy to diagnose gestational diabetes.
- Your blood will be checked after an hour you’ve drunk sugary liquid during the glucose challenge test.
- During the 3-hour glucose tolerance test, your blood will be checked after you fast overnight and then drink a sugary liquid.
Remember that the earlier you are diagnosed with diabetes, the sooner you can begin treatment.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent type 1 diabetes because it is caused by an issue with your immune system. You also can’t prevent some causes of type 2 diabetes like your age or genes.
Yet you can control several diabetes risk factors. Most diabetes prevention methods involve making a simple change to your fitness routine and diet.
If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, here are things you can do to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes:
- Exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, especially aerobic exercise like cycling or walking.
- Eat more vegetables, whole grains and fruits.
- Cut out trans and saturated fats, along with refined carbohydrates of your diet.
- Try to lose 7% of your body weight if you are obese or overweight.
- Eat smaller portions of food.
Self-monitoring of blood sugar levels is important if you are to manage diabetes effectively because it will make it easy to regulate meal schedule, the time to take medication and do physical activity.
While self-monitoring blood glucose machines vary, they’ll generally include a test strip and meter for generating readings and a lancing device to prick the skin for obtaining a small quantity of blood.
Always refer to the specific instructions of the meter, as machines will differ. However, these precautions and steps are common to many of the machines currently on the market:
- Make sure you clean and dry both hands before you touch the test strips or meter.
- Don’t use a test strip more than once and be sure to keep them in their original canister to prevent moisture from changing the result.
- Keep canister closed after testing.
- Be sure to check the expiration date.
- Older meters might require coding before you use them. Check to see if the machine currently in use needs this.
- Keep meter and strips in a dry, cool area.
- Take the meter and strips into consultations, so that a specialist or primary care physician can check their effectiveness.
Person self-monitoring diabetes uses a device known as a lancet to prick the skin. While drawing blood might cause distress for some people, lancing of finger to obtain a blood sample should be a simple and gentle procedure.
Be sure to take the following precautions:
- Clean the part where you want to draw the blood sample with soapy, warm water to prevent food residue from entering the device and distorting the reading.
- For maximum comfort, choose a small, thin lancet.
- The lancet you chose should have depth settings that control the prick’s depth. You can adjust to comfort.
- Several meters require just a teardrop-sized blood sample.
- Take blood from the side of your finger, as it causes less pain. It will be more comfortable to use the little finger, ring finger and middle finger.
- While some meters allow samples from other test sites, such as the upper arms and thighs, the outer palms or fingertips produce more accurate results.
- Tease blood to the surface in a milking motion rather than placing pressure at the lancing site.
- Dispose of lances in line with local regulations for getting rid of sharp objects.
Remember that self-monitoring involves making adjustments to your lifestyle, but don’t need to be an uncomfortable process.
Diabetes in children
Children can get type 1 and type 2 diabetes. But it is important to control blood sugar in young people because the condition can damage vital organs like kidneys and heart.
Type 1 diabetes
The autoimmune type of diabetes often begins in childhood. Increased urination is one of the main symptoms. Children with type 1 diabetes may begin wetting the bed after being toilet trained.
Fatigue, hunger and extreme thirst are also signs of type 1 diabetes. It is important that kids with this type of condition get treated right away because it can cause dehydration and high blood sugar, which can be medical emergencies.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is popularly called “juvenile diabetes” because type 2 diabetes was so rare in children. But nowadays, more kids are obese or overweight, so type 2 diabetes is becoming common among them.
Research showed that about 40% of kids with type 2 diabetes don’t have symptoms. This condition is often diagnosed during a physical exam.
If type 2 diabetes is not treated, it can cause lifelong complications like blindness, kidney disease and heart disease. Exercise and healthy eating can help kids manage their blood sugar and prevent complications.
The bottom line
Diabetes is a life-changing disease that requires a healthy lifestyle and careful blood sugar management to be able to manage it correctly.
Some types of this condition – like type 1 – are caused by factors that are not controllable. Other – such as type 2 – can be prevented with healthy food choice, weight loss and increased activity.
Be sure to discuss potential diabetes risks with a doctor. If you are at risk, let your doctor test your blood and follow the doctor’s advice for managing your blood sugar effectively.
The complications of diabetes can really be severe, including stroke and kidney failure, so it is important to manage the condition properly.
If you suspect diabetes symptoms, visit a doctor.