Diabetes refers to a number of conditions that impair the way the body uses blood glucose, also called blood sugar. The end result is elevated blood sugar, which can lead to many serious health issues if left untreated.
Glucose is essential to our bodies because it is the main source of energy for our muscle and tissue cells. All types of food we eat eventually break down to glucose during digestion. This glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream. The liver also stores and manufacturers glucose to release into your blood to maintain normal levels if you have not eaten in a while. Your pancreas secretes insulin into the blood, acting as a key that allows sugar to enter and fuel the cells of your body.
All types of diabetes impair or block the pancreas’ ability to help glucose move from the bloodstream to your cells. Excess blood glucose causes symptoms including:
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections
- Intense hunger and thirst
- Slow to heal sores
- Unexplained weight loss.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is believed to be an autoimmune disease. It most often begins in childhood, although adults can develop the condition as well.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes occurs more in Caucasians than other ethnic groups. While genetics may partially cause type 1 diabetes, environmental triggers also play a role, including:
- Cold weather
- Early life diet
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common of all types of diabetes â€” approximately 90 percent of all diabetics are affected with this form of the disease. Type 2 diabetes results when cells of the body become resistant to the function of insulin and/or not enough insulin is produced. This condition occurs most often in adults. It is, however, becoming a increasing problem in children as well, mainly due to the rise of childhood obesity.
Genetics are believed to play a larger role in developing type 2 diabetes than type 1 diabetes, although environmental factors also play a part. Here are some risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
- African-American, Mexican-American or Pima Indian heritage
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Western lifestyle, including a low-fiber, high-fat diet and lack of exercise.
Interestingly, ethnic groups at high genetic risk for type 2 diabetes tend not to develop this condition unless they adopt a Western lifestyle.
Gestational Diabetes Signs
Hormones produced during pregnancy can make cells resistant to insulin, particularly during the second and third trimesters. In most women, the body compensates by making extra insulin. When the body can’t keep up, too much sugar remains in the blood. This is called gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes signs and symptoms are sometimes absent, so doctors routinely screen for this condition during pregnancy.
Although no one knows the exact cause of gestational diabetes, signs and risk factors include:
- Being overweight
- Family history of diabetes, especially on the maternal side
- Having children at a later age.
People with pre-diabetes have cells that have become resistant to insulin, and/or are unable to produce enough insulin in the pancreas to compensate. Not all the blood glucose is able to reach the cells, and it begins to build up in the bloodstream. Left untreated, pre-diabetes usually develops into type 2 diabetes in 10 years or less. Pre-diabetes treatment involves improved diet and exercise, and sometimes medication.
American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Genetics of diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/genetics-of-diabetes.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetes/DS01121/DSECTION=causes.
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.