Diabetes is a chronic health condition that occurs when the body has difficulty processing sugar, or glucose, due to an insufficient amount of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body use the glucose it receives from food. People living with diabetes have trouble producing enough insulin or the insulin they produce does not work the way it should. As a result, their blood sugar levels can become too high or too low, leading to serious health complications. There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Treatment for diabetes typically involves lifestyle changes and medications to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
The primary symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections, and slow healing wounds. Other symptoms that may appear with type 1 diabetes include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing. Type 2 diabetes may present with itching, skin infections, and darkened patches of skin, in addition to the primary symptoms. Long-term complications of diabetes can include heart, kidney, and nerve damage, as well as eye problems and amputations.
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, but it is known to be linked to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research suggests that genes play a role in the development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as well as gestational diabetes. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include being overweight or obese, having a family history of diabetes, and leading a sedentary lifestyle (not getting enough physical activity). In addition, certain environmental exposures and infections have been linked to an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
The following are risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes:
- Being overweight or obese
- A family history of diabetes
- Physical inactivity
- Age – risk increases as you get older
- Race/Ethnicity – certain ethnicities, including African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Native Hawaiians, are at higher risk
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High levels of triglycerides and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
- Previous gestational diabetes, or having a baby weighing more than nine pounds at birth
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)
- A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome
- Certain genetic syndromes, such as Down syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome
Diabetes is typically diagnosed through a combination of factors, including a physical exam and lab tests. A physical exam can help a doctor determine if there are any symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, or unexplained weight loss. Lab tests include a fasting blood glucose test, an oral glucose tolerance test, and a hemoglobin A1C test. These tests measure the amount of glucose in the blood and can help diagnose diabetes or pre-diabetes. In some cases, a urine sample may be taken to check for acetone, which can be an indication of diabetes.
The two main types of diabetes are Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot produce insulin, and Type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disorder in which the body does not use insulin properly.
Within Type 1 diabetes, there are two subtypes: autoimmune and idiopathic. Autoimmune diabetes is caused by an autoimmune response which damages the pancreatic beta cells, resulting in the body’s inability to produce insulin. Idiopathic Type 1 diabetes is when the cause of the diabetes is unknown.
Within Type 2 diabetes, there are various subtypes, including: insulin-resistant diabetes (when the body is resistant to the effects of insulin), maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA), secondary diabetes (caused by another health condition or medication), and gestational diabetes (which occurs during pregnancy).
The treatment options for Diabetes depend on what type of Diabetes you have. The most common forms of Diabetes are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational Diabetes.
For Type 1 Diabetes, the cornerstone of treatment is daily injections of insulin, as well as strict control of blood glucose levels through dietary restrictions, exercise, and regular monitoring. Other treatments may include meal planning, education, and support from healthcare professionals.
For Type 2 Diabetes, treatment often includes, managing blood glucose levels, healthy eating, exercise, and medications such as metformin, sulfonylureas, GLP-1 agonists, and SGLT2 inhibitors. Other treatments may include insulin therapy, weight loss surgery, bariatric surgery, and other lifestyle changes.
For gestational Diabetes, treatment includes managing glucose levels through diet and exercise. Women with gestational Diabetes may also take insulin or other medications to help control their glucose levels.
In all cases, it is important to monitor blood glucose levels regularly, as well as to speak with a healthcare professional for the best treatment for your individual needs.
There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting diabetes.
- Eating a healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products can help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
- Exercising regularly: Regular exercise can help you lose weight and lower your risk of diabetes. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight can increase your risk of diabetes. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9.
- Not smoking: Smoking can increase your risk of diabetes and other health problems.
- Limiting alcohol intake: Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of diabetes.
- Monitoring blood sugar levels: If you have diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar levels can help you keep them within a healthy range.
Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of diabetes. Women are more likely than men to develop type 2 diabetes, and women with type 2 diabetes are more likely than men to be diagnosed at a younger age, to have higher HbA1c values, and to experience more frequent hypoglycemia. Women are also more likely than men to be affected by diabetes-related complications such as diabetic retinopathy and diabetic nephropathy. In addition, women with diabetes often have difficulty managing their condition due to additional factors such as competing health concerns, erratic work schedules, and greater family responsibilities. For this reason, women with diabetes may need tailored diabetes management plans that take into account these gender-specific factors.
Nutrition plays a very important role in the management of diabetes. The right nutrition plan can help keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range and prevent or reduce the risk of diabetes complications. Eating well-rounded meals that include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help ensure you get the nutrients needed to maintain good health. In addition, limiting processed foods, added sugars and saturated fats can help keep glucose levels from spiking and provide energy without affecting insulin levels. Finally, staying hydrated and drinking water instead of sugary drinks can help control blood glucose levels. Eating healthy, balanced meals and following a nutrition plan tailored for diabetes can help manage the disease.
Physical activity can play a key role in managing and preventing diabetes. Regular physical activity helps to lower blood glucose levels, reduce insulin resistance, and increase insulin sensitivity. It can also help to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and help with weight loss. Overall, physical activity can help to improve body composition, reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes, and improve overall quality of life.