Diabetes is a condition where the body does not produce enough or is resistant to a hormone called insulin. There are several types of diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34.2 million people in the United States had diabetes between 2013–2016.
In this article, we discuss the different types of diabetes, their causes and symptoms, how to manage them, and whether it is possible to reduce the risk of getting diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that attacks the pancreas, leading to an insulin deficiency.
Type 1 diabetes most commonly appears in childhood or adolescence, but people of any age can develop type 1 diabetes.
A 2017 article in Point Care indicates that people with type 1 diabetes account for 5–10% of those with diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes develops due to an autoimmune reaction. This causes the immune system, or T cells, to attack and destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This means the pancreas is unable to produce insulin.
According to a 2017 clinical perspective, people at higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes have specific genetic markers and cells called autoantibodies that target the pancreatic cells.
Around 85-90% of people who will eventually develop type 1 diabetes have at least one type of autoantibody present in their body.
When a person has diabetes, their body does not transport glucose from the bloodstream properly, resulting in increased glucose levels in the blood and urine.
Diabetes can cause the following symptoms:
- increased thirst
- increased appetite
- increased need to urinate
- weight loss
Risk factors may include:
- Family history: Having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes.
- Age: Although healthcare professionals typically diagnose type 1 diabetes in children, it can develop at any age.
The primary treatment for type 1 diabetes involves taking insulin. The CDC state that people with diabetes need to inject insulin every day to manage blood sugar levels.
It is essential to check and maintain blood sugar levels regularly. According to the CDC, having a healthful amount of blood sugar will help prevent or delay diabetes-related complications.
As well as checking blood sugar levels and injecting insulin, the CDC also stress the importance of:
- eating a healthful diet
- being physically active
- controlling blood pressure and cholesterol
- practicing good sleep hygiene
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Around 90% of people with diabetes have type 2.
Type 2 diabetes most commonly affects those over the age of 45. However, more children, teens, and young adults are developing type 2 diabetes due to a variety of lifestyle habits, such as energy-dense diets and a lack of physical activity
Insulin resistance causes type 2 diabetes. This means that the body does not respond to the insulin that the pancreas creates. Typically, the pancreas increases the supply of insulin initially, but over time, it reduces the amount of insulin it produces.
When the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, it leads to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream.
Type 2 diabetes has a strong genetic link. People belonging to minority ethnic groups, for example, African American and Pacific Islanders, are more prone to have type 2 diabetes than those with European ancestry, according to a 2018 article.
The CDC indicate that type 2 diabetes symptoms may develop slowly over several years. However, many people may not notice any symptoms at all. Because of this, people who have any risk factors must have a blood test.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
- having prediabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than usual, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes
- having obesity
- being 45 years or older
- having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- being physically inactive
- having had gestational diabetes, or giving birth to a baby over 9 pounds
People with diabetes can manage the condition at home with support from a healthcare team.
Some people may also require mediation.
According to the CDC, a doctor may prescribe:
- injectable insulin
- other injectable medication
- oral diabetes medicines
These medications manage blood sugar levels and help avoid complications.
People with type 2 diabetes must monitor their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels regularly.
Pregnant women who do not already have diabetes can develop gestational diabetes. The CDC indicate that 2–10% of pregnant women in the U.S. develop gestational diabetes.
Pregnancy causes some insulin resistance.
The CDC state that hormones and weight gain during pregnancy cause the body to use insulin less effectively. This, in turn, causes insulin resistance, which increases the body’s need for insulin.
If the body is unable to produce enough insulin to compensate for the insulin resistance that pregnancy causes, a person may develop gestational diabetes.
Some women with gestational diabetes do not experience any symptoms. A doctor will likely look at a woman’s medical history and risk factors to determine whether a woman will develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy,
Gestational diabetes usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:
- having had gestational diabetes previously
- having given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
- having obesity
- being over 25 years old
- having a family history of type 2 diabetes
- having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- being African American, Hispanic, or Latino American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander
Treatment for gestational diabetes mainly involves making lifestyle changes, such as
- checking blood sugar levels
- eating a healthful diet
- being active
- monitoring the baby during pregnancy
If these changes do not manage blood sugar levels, a doctor may prescribe insulin, metformin, or other medication.
Although a person cannot prevent type 1 diabetes, they may be able to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. The World Obesity Federation suggest that BMI and obesity account for around 60% of the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
For people with prediabetes, losing weight through calorie restrictions and physical activity reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%.
Children at risk of developing type 2 diabetes may benefit from:
- being taught how to follow a healthful diet and be physically active
- changing the home and school environment to enable healthful lifestyles
According to the CDC, a nutritious, balanced diet, and partaking in regular physical activity before getting pregnant may prevent gestational diabetes. However, pregnant women should not try to lose weight without speaking to a doctor or dietitian.
Untreated diabetes can lead to further complications. One of these is hypoglycemia, which is a condition where blood sugar levels drop rapidly. This needs immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- sweating, chills, and shakiness
- dizziness and difficulty concentrating
- hunger or nausea
If a person does not receive treatment for type 1 diabetes, it may lead to:
- cerebral edema, which is a condition where fluid builds up around the brain
- mental confusion
Other complications include:
It is important to see a doctor if any symptoms associated with diabetes appear. However, many people with diabetes may not notice any symptoms. It is crucial to recognize the risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing diabetes. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms must see a doctor.
A doctor will be able to test for diabetes in several ways. The four main tests are:
- A1C test: This measures an individual’s average blood sugar level over 2–3 months.
- Fasting blood sugar test: This measures a person’s blood sugar levels after they have fasted overnight.
- Glucose tolerance test: This measures blood sugar before and after someone drinks a liquid that contains glucose.
- Random blood sugar test: A person can take this at any time without needing to fast.
Diabetes affects many people in the United States.
The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune reaction, which a person cannot prevent it. Type 2 diabetes is typically due to lifestyle factors, which means a person can prevent it. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that only affects pregnant women.
There are many risk factors for diabetes. However, a person can manage diabetes by making lifestyle changes and taking medication if necessary.
It is important to treat diabetes. Complications can arise if diabetes is left untreated. Anyone who experiences symptoms of type 1 diabetes or has any risk factors for developing type 2 or gestational diabetes should see a doctor for a diagnosis.