What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is known to be a chronic condition which occurs when the body fails to produce sufficient insulin, a hormone needed by the cells to be able to use the glucose present in food. The blood will contain excessive sugar then due to the cells' inability to use glucose the way it would in an individual with a normal physiology. Over time, this sugar starts to build up in the blood and is then excreted.
The excess glucose raises blood sugar levels, and this leads to various complications for blood vessels, the heart, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. There is no cure for diabetes, but fortunately the condition is very manageable.
What causes Diabetes?
Since there are many kinds of diabetes, different factors are responsible for different types. The most common ones include type 1 and type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas responsible for making insulin. Consequently, the body doesn’t produce any insulin. As a result, people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to stay alive. While type 1 diabetes is diagnosed mostly in kids and young adults, it can onset later in life as well.
As mentioned above, diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks its own cells. While no specific cause for this reaction has been pinpointed, there are a few triggers. These include:
- Chemical toxins in food
- An unidentified component that can lead to an autoimmune reaction
- Bacterial or viral infection
- In some cases, underlying genetic predispositions can also cause type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, which is the most common kind, the body fails to produce or make use of insulin well. While type 2 diabetes can occur at any age throughout one’s life, it is more common in middle-aged and elderly people.
Multiple factors are responsible for type 2 diabetes, and often more than one cause is involved. A family history of type 2 diabetes is typically the underlying cause. Other risk factors which increase the chance of developing diabetes include:
- An unbalanced diet
- Increasing age
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
Gestational diabetes occurs in some women during their pregnancy. In most cases, this kind of diabetes goes away once the baby is born. However, being diagnosed with gestational diabetes increases the chance of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in later years.
If you have diabetes during your pregnancy, then it doesn’t necessarily have to be gestational diabetes. In some cases, diabetes during pregnancy is type 2 diabetes.
While the cause of gestational pregnancy is still unknown, there are some risk factors which increase the chance of being diagnosed with this condition. These include:
- Giving birth to a large baby; one that weighs over 9 pounds
- Diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome
- Obesity or being significantly overweight
- A family history of gestational diabetes
Factors responsible for gestational diabetes might also be closely linked to ethnicity. For some ethnic groups, the risk of this type of diabetes is higher.
Other Types of Diabetes
Other lesser known types of diabetes include monogenic diabetes, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, and steroid-induced diabetes.
There are various causes of these other kinds of diabetes. These include:
- Steroid-induced diabetes is a rare kind of diabetes that occurs because of prolonged use of glucocorticoid therapy.
- Pancreatitis and pancreatectomy are both known to increase the risk of having diabetes
- PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome is also known to increase the chances of both type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. PCOS occurs due to obesity-linked insulin resistance, which is why PCOS increases the risk of diabetes.
- Cushing’s syndrome increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn increases the levels of blood glucose. Excess amounts of cortisol increase the risk of diabetes, making a high-stress lifestyle another cause for the condition’s onset for some people.
- Glucagonoma can also be a cause of diabetes. It leads to a lack of balance between the levels of glucagon and insulin being produced.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
If you notice the following signs of diabetes, speak to your family doctor and have a test done without delay.
The early symptoms of diabetes are related to high levels of blood sugar as well as a lack of glucose in urine. High glucose levels in urine lead to the need to urinate overly frequently, which in turn leads to dehydration. Accordingly, increased water consumption and increased thirst could be signs of diabetes.
Insulin deficiencies also causes weight loss. This can be true even if weight loss occurs despite no change in appetite or eating habits.
Some patients with untreated diabetes also complain about experiencing fatigue. Others may experience vomiting and nausea.
People with untreated or poorly-controlled diabetes also have frequent infections, particularly of the vaginal areas, skin, and bladder.
Diabetes symptoms can also include blurred vision due to fluctuation blood glucose levels.
Other diabetes symptoms include lethargy and, in severe cases some patients may have a coma state induced because of highly elevated levels of glucose.
Treatment - Diabetes Medications
When treating both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the goal is to keep the level of blood sugar in the defined normal range and to keep fluctuations to a minimum. Treatments for type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes will vary somewhat.
For type 1 diabetes, patients must take insulin daily and follow an exercise regimen along with a proper type 1 diabetes diet.
Type 2 diabetes is also treated with exercise, and gradual weight reduction, and lifestyle changes that will depend on the individual’s physiology. If these measures fail to control high blood sugar levels, doctors will often then prescribe oral medicines. Should the medicinal approach also fail to work, then insulin treatments are begun.
When it comes to diabetes medications, the prescribed medicines will vary from person to person and the following factors are taken into account:
- Side effects and effectiveness of each medicine
- Underlying health status of the patient
- Complications to medicine, if any (for example, allergies or harmful interactions with other prescribed medicines).
For both kinds of diabetes, proper nutrition is a crucial part of the solution. However, there is no specific diet that is recommended for all. Diets will vary according to the patient’s individual needs.
Lastly, when it comes to diabetes medications, make sure you to consult your doctor and follow his or her professional guidance when treating the condition. Do not self-medicate.
- Endocrine Web – What is Insulin?
- Mayo Clinic – Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan