What is Diabetes? | Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and disordered metabolism resulting from low levels of the hormone insulin (pancreas not producing insulin in type 1 diabetes) or abnormal insulin resistance (cells not responding to insulin in type 2 diabetes). Without proper management, it can lead to a buildup of sugars in the blood and cause serious complications such as heart disease and stroke.
What Causes Diabetes?
The common characteristic of all types of diabetes is the fact that they cause the affected person to have too much glucose in the blood. Everyone needs some glucose for energy. Your body gets energy when carbohydrates from the food and beverages consumed are broken down. The glucose is then released into the bloodstream.
Your body also needs the hormone insulin produced by your pancreas. Insulin is responsible for allowing glucose to get into the cells and fuel the body. The pancreas of non-diabetics can sense the presence of glucose in the blood, and is, therefore, able to release the right amounts of insulin to drive glucose into the cells. If you are diabetic, it would mean that your system does not work well.
Different Types of Diabetes
The 3 main types of diabetes include type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
Also known as insulin–dependent or juvenile diabetes, this is the more severe type occurring when the body fails to produce insulin. The immune system of a type 1 diabetic mistakenly attacks the cells responsible for making insulin in the pancreas and destroys them. The attack is referred to as an autoimmune disease. Although it can be diagnosed at any age, type 1 is more common in children and young adults. The patients are insulin-dependent, meaning artificial insulin has to be taken every day.
The causes are unknown, but type 1 is believed to stem from environmental factors and genetic susceptibility. For this type, weight is not considered a risk factor. The risk factors for type 1 would include:
- Ecological factors: Could include exposure to a viral illness linked to type 1 diabetes
- Family history: Parents, siblings, or immediate relatives have type 1 diabetes
- Geography: Some countries have high rates of the disease especially Sweden and Finland
- The presence of auto–antibodies: If you are tested to have damaged immune system cells, there are high chances of developing type 1 diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes
With type 2 diabetes, your body does not make or use insulin properly. While in this type your body makes insulin, the cells do not respond to it effectively. Also known as adult–onset diabetes, this is the most common type strongly linked to obese people with a sedentary lifestyle. However, not every obese person has type 2 diabetes. Although it can be diagnosed in children, it is common among the older and middle-aged groups. The main focus of treatment targets exercise and diet.
A sedentary lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors are believed to be the major players in the onset of type 2 diabetes. The risk factors include:
- Lack of exercise: Exercise enables you to control your weight, which would prompt your body to use glucose as energy and cause your cells to have more insulin sensitivity.
- Weight: Obesity increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes
- Family history: If any of your parents, siblings, or immediate relatives have type 2 diabetes, you are at a high risk of developing the disease.
- Age: The older you get, the higher the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. It could be a result of a sedentary lifestyle, inactivity, and loss of muscle mass.
- Race: Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians are at high risk.
- High blood pressure: With a blood pressure of more than 140/90 mm of mercury, your chances of developing type 2 diabetes increase.
- Gestational diabetes: Developing gestational diabetes when pregnant predisposes you to type 2 diabetes in the future.
- Abnormal triglyceride and cholesterol levels: Low HDL –high-density lipoprotein levels expose you to type 2 diabetes risk.
This type is common during pregnancy and often disappears after delivery. However, developing gestational diabetes increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
During the pregnancy period, your placenta releases hormones designed to sustain the pregnancy. The hormones cause the cells in your body to resist insulin. In response, the pancreas then produces more insulin to counteract the resistance. Sometimes, however, the pancreas gives up, causing little glucose to penetrate the cells and leaves much of it in the blood. This then results in gestational diabetes. The risk factors include:
- Family history: If a close family member has type 2 diabetes, you are at risk of developing gestational diabetes.
- Age: Pregnant women aged 25 and above are at a high risk
- Weight: Too much weight during pregnancy exposes you to gestational diabetes
Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can lead to the death of the baby before or shortly after birth. The mother may also suffer from preeclampsia characterized by high blood pressure and swelling in the legs.
Poor management of diabetes exposes you to a higher risk of complications. Most of the complications could be life-threatening. All types of diabetes increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage, retinopathy, skin conditions such as bacterial and fungal infections, hearing impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and foot damage such as infections which could eventually result in limb amputation.
The Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
The symptoms of diabetes vary depending on the elevation of blood glucose. If you have pre–diabetes or even a type 2, you are likely to miss the symptoms during the onset of the disease. Symptoms are more apparent and severe in Type 1. Here are some of the signs that could signal the presence of diabetes.
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Hunger pangs
- Unexplained loss of weight
- Ketones in the urine
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections
The goal of treating diabetes is to achieve low glucose levels that is within the normal range. Type 1 is treated with insulin, a low carb diet, and exercise. In type 2, weight reduction, proper nutrition, and exercise are the first treatment measures. Should they fail, medications are prescribed to stabilize the elevated levels of blood glucose. In cases where the medications also fail, insulin may be initiated.
Diabetic people are also likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, the two ingredients of a heightened level of blood glucose. In such a situation, it is essential to talk to a counselor to better cope with your condition.
Because the complications of uncontrolled diabetes can be severe including kidney disease and stroke, it is vital to manage your condition accordingly.