Diabetes has become a growing concern for both adults and children. While the awareness of diabetes is widespread, many people don’t realize that diabetes is actually a group of conditions that impair the way the body uses blood glucose. Types of diabetes include:
- Gestational diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes.
Our bodies need glucose, which is the main energy source for the cells in our muscles and tissues. Most of the food that we eat eventually breaks down to glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose is also stored and manufactured in the liver, where it is released into the blood to maintain healthy glucose levels if you haven’t eaten for a while. The pancreas then secretes insulin into the blood, which acts as a key that allows that sugar to enter and fuel our cells.
In all types of diabetes, however, insulin is lacking or its function impaired, so too much glucose is present in the blood. Left untreated, high levels of blood glucose can lead to many severe health issues. Some complications with diabetes may include:
- Bone and joint problems
- Cardiovascular disease
- Eye damage
- Foot damage
- Nephropathy (kidney damage)
- Neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Skin and mouth conditions.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Depending on which type you have, symptoms of diabetes may vary. If you have pre-diabetes or gestational diabetes, you might not experience any symptoms at all. Here are some classic symptoms of diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2:
- Blurred vision
- Extreme hunger
- Frequent or reoccurring infections including bladder, gum, skin or vaginal infections
- Intense thirst
- Sores that heal slowly
- Unexplained weight loss.
Your doctor can perform blood tests to diagnose diabetes. Even if you are not showing symptoms of diabetes, getting screened can protect your health. The earlier you begin treating and managing diabetes, the better your chances of maintaining lifelong health. Pregnant women are routinely screened for gestational diabetes to protect both themselves and the health of their unborn babies.
What Causes Diabetes?
You may be asking yourself, “what causes diabetes?” Diabetes can be caused by a number of factors, both inherited and environmental. Here are some basic causes of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. While genetic risk factors are involved, you need to inherit them from both parents to get the disease. Environmental triggers for type 1 diabetes may include cold weather and diet.
- Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes causes cells to become resistant to insulin, and the pancreas isn’t able to make enough insulin to compensate. Type 2 diabetes has a stronger genetic link than type 1, although genetics and environment must interact to create this condition. Environmental factors may include poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity. These factors also contribute to pre-diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes: Scientists are still unsure of exactly what causes diabetes of this type. Risk factors may include a family history of diabetes, being overweight and having children at a later age.
Diabetes Treatment Options
Whether your doctor prescribes established medicines or the latest diabetes treatments, controlling blood sugar levels is at the heart of all diabetes management. Some of these diabetes treatments include:
- Eating a special diet
- Monitoring your blood sugar
- Receiving transplants
- Taking insulin
- Taking oral medication.
Maintaining a healthy weight, proper diet and exercise regimen will help you keep blood sugar levels in the healthiest range possible.
American Diabetes Association. (2010). Genetics of diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/genetics-of-diabetes.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetes/DS01121.
UpToDate. (2010). Patient information: Diabetes mellitus type 2: Overview. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.utdol.com/patients/content/topic.do?topicKey=~X0jjLnBn4._ko.