Everything You Need to Know About Diabetes

Medically Reviewed By Marina Basina, M.D.
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Diabetes is a chronic condition that develops when your body either does not make enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it does make. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is a common condition that affects approximately 37.3 million adults in the United States. They go on to say that 1 in 5 adults may be unaware they have diabetes. The number of adults who receive a diagnosis of diabetes has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

This article will define diabetes. It will also explain the types of diabetes. The article will then discuss the symptoms, risk factors, and treatments of the condition.

What is diabetes?

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Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when your body cannot properly use the insulin that is produced.

Insulin is a hormone that helps control your body’s blood sugar levels.

When your body cannot produce insulin or use it properly, this affects how your body turns the food you eat into energy. Your body turns most of what you eat into sugar, called glucose, and releases it into your bloodstream.

When your blood sugar levels increase, it sends a signal to your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is the factor that allows your body to use these sugars as energy.

When you have diabetes, this system does not work as it should. That causes your blood sugar to increase to levels that are potentially unsafe and can lead to further health issues.

There is currently no cure for diabetes. However, there are treatments available to help you manage its symptoms.

What are the types of diabetes?

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. This type is when your body does not produce insulin in the way that it should. Without insulin, your body cannot get the glucose into your cells. This causes the sugar to build up in your bloodstream.

Typically someone discovers they have type 1 diabetes when they are children or young adults. However, you can develop this type at any age.

Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2. Only around 5–10% of people with diabetes have type 1.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type.

This type involves insulin resistance. In other words, your body does not use insulin properly.

Type 2 diabetes typically affects people over the age of 45 years. However, recent years have seen an increase in the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in children, adolescents, and young adults. Many experts believe that this is due to the rise in obesity, dietary changes, and less active lifestyles.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects people during pregnancy. This type affects approximately 2–10% of pregnancies in the U.S. each year.

Gestational diabetes occurs due to the body not being able to produce enough insulin during pregnancy. Pregnancy causes the body to produce more hormones in general and also to go through other changes, such as weight gain. Most people late in their pregnancy will experience some kind of insulin resistance.

Some people already have some insulin resistance before they get pregnant. This can increase their chance of developing gestational diabetes.

Around 50% of people who develop gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes later on. However, there are ways to prevent this.

Speak with your doctor about what you should do to prevent type 2 diabetes if you have had gestational diabetes.

Visit our hub to learn more about diabetes.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The symptoms of diabetes typically vary depending on which type you are experiencing. Common symptoms of diabetes include:

Type 1 diabetes may also cause symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Symptoms typically develop over a few weeks or months and are often severe.

Type 2 diabetes symptoms typically take years to develop. Many people do not notice the symptoms at all. Due to this, it is important to know the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. If you are at risk, speak with your doctor to monitor your blood sugar and health closely.

Gestational diabetes does not typically have any symptoms. Doctors generally test for this during pregnancy at some point during weeks 24–28.

What are the risk factors for diabetes?

The risk factors for diabetes vary depending on its type.

Type 1 diabetes risk factors

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be the result of an immune reaction. Risk factors for type 1 may include:

  • Family history: If you have a biological parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes, you are more likely to develop it yourself.
  • Age: Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age. However, most people receive the diagnosis when they are children, adolescents, or young adults.
  • Race and ethnic background: In the U.S., type 1 diabetes is more common in white people than in Black or Hispanic people.

Type 2 diabetes risk factors

There are two types of risk factors for type 2 diabetes. These are non-modifiable and modifiable.

Non-modifiable risk factors

These are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes that you cannot change. They include:

  • Family history: Like with type 1 diabetes, if you have a close relative with type 2 diabetes, you may be more likely to develop it yourself.
  • Race and ethnic background: Those who are of African American, Asian American, Latino, Hispanic, or Native American descent are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Age: Even though diagnoses in children, adolescents, and young adults are becoming more common, people typically develop type 2 diabetes over the age of 40 years.
  • Gestational diabetes: If you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): People with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Over half of people with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by the time they are 40 years old.

Modifiable risk factors

You may be able to control these risk factors to help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Weight: Someone with obesity or who is overweight is at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In some circumstances, losing just 5–10% of your body weight could greatly decrease this risk.
  • Physical activity: Inactivity is one of the key factors that put people at risk for type 2 diabetes. Getting regular physical activity can help lower any insulin resistance, therefore decreasing your risk of developing diabetes.
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol: High blood pressure and cholesterol both increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Speak with your doctor about treatment for these conditions and find out how you can decrease your risk of diabetes.
  • Diet: Eating a healthy diet can greatly decrease your risk of diabetes.
  • Smoking and alcohol: Smoking and using alcohol heavily both increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

If you are at risk of type 2 diabetes, speak with your doctor about monitoring your blood sugar and overall health. You should also ask them about ways you can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

Gestational diabetes risk factors

You may have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes if you:

  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are overweight
  • have PCOS
  • have developed gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • have previously given birth to a baby that was over 9 pounds
  • are older than 25 years of age

How can you prevent diabetes?

It is not possible to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 or gestational diabetes by making lifestyle changes. These changes include:

  • losing weight if you are overweight or have obesity
  • following a healthy diet and healthy eating habits
  • getting regular physical activity

Visit our hub to read more about food, nutrition, and diet.

What are the treatments for diabetes?

People with type 1 diabetes require insulin daily. You should speak with your doctor to find out the best way for you to administer your insulin. It is also important for those with type 1 to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is sometimes treatable with medications such as metformin. Lifestyle changes, such as diet and regular exercise, are also key components in managing your type 2 diabetes.

If you develop gestational diabetes, your doctor will typically monitor your blood sugar levels closely. A healthy diet and regular exercise are also important parts of managing your gestational diabetes. You should always discuss any changes with your doctor and follow their directions closely.

Read more about the best foods for a person with diabetes here.

What are the potential complications of diabetes?

Diabetes can lead to other health issues and conditions. You should work closely with your doctor to manage and treat your diabetes, as this can delay or even prevent many of the possible complications of diabetes.

Potential complications related to diabetes include:

  • heart and blood vessel damage
  • nerve damage
  • kidney damage
  • foot damage
  • skin and mouth conditions
  • osteoporosis

Other frequently asked questions

Here are some more questions people asked about diabetes.

Why does glucose appear in the urine of people with diabetes?

The presence of glucose in the urine is known as glycosuria. This can happen in those with diabetes due to the body not producing enough insulin. Having too little insulin in your body can lead to absorption issues.

If your body is not able to absorb the insulin properly because there is not enough of it, it can cause higher levels of glucose in your blood and high levels of glucose in your urine.

How does diabetes affect your quality of life?

Having diabetes will affect your life. You will have to make lifestyle changes and may have to give yourself insulin or take medication for the rest of your life.

You should work closely with your doctor and other healthcare professionals to make living with diabetes easier for you and your loved ones. With proper care and treatment, you can still live a full life with diabetes.

Summary

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of adults in the U.S.

Type 1 diabetes is not preventable. However, you can manage it with proper treatment.

You can reduce your risk of type 2 and gestational diabetes, and possibly even prevent them, with lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

If you experience any symptoms of diabetes or believe you could be at risk of developing the condition, speak with a doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Marina Basina, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 May 30
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