Diabetes

Overview

Diabetes mellitus is a term referring to diseases that affect how your body uses glucose. Glucose is important to your health because it is the main source of energy for the cells making up your muscle and tissues as well as being your brain’s main source of fuel.

There are a few different types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and prediabetes. Depending on the kind of diabetes you have it may be caused by different factors and treatment options will vary. With every type of diabetes it can lead to excess sugar in your blood which can lead to serious health problems.

Signs and Symptoms

Depending on which type of diabetes you have you may experience different symptoms and the cause will vary. The exact cause for type 1 diabetes is not known, however what is known is that your immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas which leaves you with little to no insulin. It is commonly thought to be caused by a combination of environmental factors mixed with genetic susceptibility though exactly which environmental factors are involved is unclear. Weight is not believed to be a contributing factor.

In type 2 diabetes as well as prediabetes your cells become resistant to the actions of insulin and the pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin to overcome this and sugar builds up in your bloodstream instead of being used for energy. It is uncertain as to exactly why this happens though it is believed that environmental and genetic factors play a role in developing type 2 diabetes as well. Weight plays a part in the development of type 2 diabetes though not everyone with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes is overweight.

Gestational diabetes is caused by the placenta producing hormones to sustain your pregnancy that make your cells more resistant to insulin. Usually your pancreas will produce more insulin to compensate though there are cases where one’s pancreas cannot keep up resulting in a build up of sugar in your bloodstream. Gestational diabetes will usually clear up after your pregnancy is completed.

People with type 1 diabetes will generally experience symptoms relatively quickly and severely. Those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes may not initially experience symptoms which can lead to them living with type 2 diabetes for years without knowing.

The following are the most common signs of diabetes: frequent urination, weight change, unusual thirst, blurred vision, extreme fatigue, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, frequent or recurring infections, trouble getting and maintaining an erection, cuts and bruises healing slowly.

Contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms. If you are over 40 you should still get checked periodically.

Gradually, long-term complications of diabetes develop. The less in control your blood sugar is, and the longer you have diabetes, the higher the risk of complications. Diabetes complications can turn disabling or life threatening. Some complications include: nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, eye damage, kidney damage, depression, hearing impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, foot damage, and skin conditions.

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are identified risk factors that can contribute to type 1 diabetes even though the exact cause is unknown. Some of these factors include: family history, the presence of damaging immune system cells, geography (certain countries such as Sweden and Finland have higher rates of type 1 diabetes), and family history.

For prediabetes and type 2 diabetes certain factors can increase the risk of the diseases including: inactivity, weight, race, family history, age, history of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

There are ways to prevent diabetes including: eating healthy foods that are lower in calories and fat and higher in fiber, getting 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity a day, lose excess pounds. However, you should not try to lose weight during pregnancy, ask your doctor about how much weight it is healthy to gain during pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor if you think you have diabetes, they have a number of tests they’re able to perform to diagnose diabetes including: random blood glucose test, fasting blood glucose test, A1C test, and Oral glucose tolerance test.

Both types of diabetes can be managed easily. For type 1 and 2 diabetes: take insulin and other medications as prescribed by your doctor, monitor blood sugar levels closely, enjoy physical activity, manage stress, aim for a healthy weight, and eat healthily.

In some patients of type 1 diabetes a pancreas transplant may be an option, however these procedures can be risky and do not always work. Due to this as well as the need for lifelong immune-suppressing drugs and the side effects caused by them transplants are reserved for people whose diabetes cannot be controlled. 

For gestational diabetes it is essential to control your blood sugar levels as this helps keep your baby healthy and helps you to avoid complications during delivery. Your treatment will include healthy diet and exercise and may also include monitoring blood sugar and oral medications or insulin.

If you’re diagnosed with prediabetes, healthy lifestyle choices can bring your blood sugar levels back under control or at least keep it from escalating to type 2 diabetes. 150 minutes of exercise per week and losing 7 percent of your body weight can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. In some cases medications may be an option if you’re at especially high risk of diabetes.