Diabetes is the inability of the body to create or use insulin. It is a serious, chronic metabolic disorder in which the body either does not produce enough insulin or does not respond to the insulin being produced. Diabetes affects an estimated 26 million children and adults in the United States; over eight percent of the population. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, more than breast cancer and AIDS combined. While diabetes can lead to serious complications, it can often be successfully managed through dedicated, lifelong treatment.

Our body breaks down most of our food into glucose, a sugar that serves as the body's main source of energy. In order for glucose to move into the cells of the body it requires the help of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. In healthy individuals, the body usually produces enough insulin to do this but for people with diabetes the same cannot be said. As a result, the glucose produced is eliminated in urine and is unable to fuel the body.

Types of Diabetes

There are several different categories of diabetes. These include:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes affects five percent of those diagnosed with diabetes. Previously known as juvenile diabetes, Type 1 diabetes is considered to be the result of an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, disabling the body's ability to produce insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of preventable diabetes and is influenced by age, obesity and family history. Although the pancreas usually produces enough insulin, the body cannot use it effectively and production slowly decreases.


Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are high but not high enough to diagnose diabetes. A diagnosis of prediabetes puts the patient at a higher risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. There are ways to prevent or delay the diagnosis of prediabetes, usually by losing seven percent of body weight and incorporating a daily exercise regimen.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is characterized by high levels of blood sugar during the later stages of pregnancy. The condition affects 18 percent of the pregnancies in the United States. While the exact causes are not completely understood, it is suspected that the hormones produced during pregnancy prevent insulin in the mother's body from working resulting in insulin resistance and hyperglycemia. Gestational diabetes does not cause birth defects but it can affect the baby's glucose levels and result in a larger birth weight. Most cases of gestational diabetes resolve at the end of the pregnancy but run the risk of developing in future pregnancies. Gestational diabetes puts the mother at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes later on in life.

Symptoms of Diabetes

While Type 1 Diabetes usually develops during childhood or adolescence, it can also manifest during adulthood. Type 2 Diabetes and prediabetes, which are preventable, can occur at any age.

Type 1 Diabetes and Gestational Diabetes

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

Type 2 Diabetes

  • Any or all of Type 1 and Gestational Diabetes symptoms
  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent infections
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Cuts or bruises that heal slowly
  • Recurring skin, mouth, vaginal or bladder infections

Some Type 2 patients do not have any of the above symptoms. That is why it is important to be checked for diabetes during a physical exam.

Risk Factors of Diabetes

Risk factors for developing diabetes include the following:

Type 1 Diabetes

  • The presence of autoantibodies
  • Diet
  • Race
  • Geographic location

Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes

  • Overweight
  • Lack of exercise
  • A family history of diabetes
  • Race
  • Age
  • History of gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • Low level of HDL cholesterol
  • Elevated triglycerides

Gestational Diabetes

  • Age
  • Overweight prior to pregnancy
  • A family history of diabetes
  • Gestational diabetes in a prior pregnancy
  • Race

Complications of Diabetes

If not treated properly, diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. It can also cause permanent eye, foot, skin and bone damage. A lifelong commitment is needed in order to prevent these complications.

Treatment of Diabetes

Depending on the type of diabetes, patients with diabetes can manage their condition through lifestyle changes, daily insulin injections and glucose level monitoring. Eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity can also help to manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

People with Type 1 Diabetes need to monitor and adjust their insulin levels each day, balance what they eat and take their medications. Those with Type 2 Diabetes need to perform frequent blood glucose tests, and may also need insulin or oral medication, or both.

It is important for people with diabetes to take an active role in the management of their condition. Monitoring blood glucose levels is essential in preventing complications. Many diabetes patients work with a team of specialists to control their condition.

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