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Diabetes — Know the Facts

Types, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Complications



Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash.com


According to the Center for Disease Control, Diabetes is defined as: A chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.

Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin.

If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can really help. Taking medicine as needed, getting diabetes self-management education and support, and keeping health care appointments can also reduce the impact of diabetes on your life.

Types of Diabetics

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant).

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks itself by mistake. This stops the body from making insulin. Approximately 5–10% of the people who have diabetes have type 1.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes often develop quickly and without any predisposed conditions. It’s usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll need to take insulin every day to survive. No medicines have been developed to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90–95% of people with diabetes have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults over 45.

You may or may not notice any symptoms, so it’s important to get your blood sugar tested if you’re at risk. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby could be at higher risk for health problems. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born but increases your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.

Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes.org is a great resource for learning about your condition. The following symptoms of diabetes are typical. However, some people with diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed.

Common symptoms of diabetes:

  • Urinating often

  • Feeling very thirsty

  • Feeling very hungry — even though you are eating

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Blurry vision

  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal

  • Weight loss — even though you are eating more (type 1)

  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2)

Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing the complications of diabetes.

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes but isn’t responding well to the typical treatments for type 2 diabetes, it may be worth a visit to an endocrinologist to determine what type of diabetes is happening. Generally, this requires antibody tests and possibly the measurement of a C-peptide level.

The Mayo Clinic offers these risk factors for diabetes:

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes

Although the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, factors that may signal an increased risk include:

  • Family history. Your risk increases if a parent or sibling has type 1 diabetes.

  • Environmental factors. Circumstances such as exposure to a viral illness likely play some role in type 1 diabetes.

  • The presence of damaging immune system cells (autoantibodies). Sometimes family members of people with type 1 diabetes are tested for the presence of diabetes autoantibodies. If you have these autoantibodies, you have an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. But not everyone who has these autoantibodies develops diabetes.

  • Geography. Certain countries, such as Finland and Sweden, have higher rates of type 1 diabetes.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes

Researchers don’t fully understand why some people develop prediabetes and type 2 diabetes and others don’t. It’s clear that certain factors increase the risk, however, including:

  • Weight. The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.

  • Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk. Physical activity helps you control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.

  • Family history. Your risk increases if a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.

  • Age. Your risk increases as you get older. This may be because you tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as you age. But type 2 diabetes is also increasing among children, adolescents and younger adults.

  • High blood pressure. Having blood pressure over 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol, your risk of type 2 diabetes is higher. Triglycerides are another type of fat carried in the blood. People with high levels of triglycerides have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Your doctor can let you know what your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are.

Complications

Long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually. The longer you have diabetes — and the less controlled your blood sugar — the higher the risk of complications. Eventually, diabetes complications may be disabling or even life-threatening. Possible complications include:

  • Cardiovascular disease. Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of various cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery disease with chest pain, heart attack, stroke and narrowing of arteries. If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have heart disease or stroke.

  • Nerve damage (neuropathy). Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels that nourish your nerves, especially in your legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward.

  • Kidney damage (nephropathy). The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.

  • Eye damage (retinopathy). Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina, potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.

  • Foot damage. Nerve damage in the feet or poor blood flow to the feet increases the risk of various foot complications. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can develop serious infections, which often heal poorly. These infections may ultimately require toe, foot or leg amputation.

  • Skin conditions. Diabetes may leave you more susceptible to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.

  • Hearing impairment. Hearing problems are more common in people with diabetes.

  • Alzheimer’s disease. Type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The poorer your blood sugar control, the greater the risk appears to be.

  • Depression. Depression symptoms are common in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Depression can affect diabetes management.

Left untreated, you could lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. Damage to the nerves related to digestion can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, it may lead to erectile dysfunction.

Prevention for Type 2 — from The Mayo Clinic

  • Eat healthy foods. Choose foods lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Strive for variety to prevent boredom.

  • Get more physical activity. Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week, or at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week.

  • Lose excess pounds. If you’re overweight, losing even 7% of your body weight — for example, 14 pounds (6.4 kilograms) if you weigh 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) — can reduce the risk of diabetes.

To keep your weight in a healthy range, focus on permanent changes to your eating and exercise habits. Motivate yourself by remembering the benefits of losing weight, such as a healthier heart, more energy and improved self-esteem.

If you are experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms or risks, contact your health provided for a check up. The sooner you can get it under control, the less damage to your body, and over health.


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