Diabetes is a chronic disease. It occurs when your body doesn’t make or adequately use a hormone called insulin. This condition leads to high blood glucose (sugar) levels.
Your body gets glucose from food. Insulin helps move glucose into your cells to give them energy. Types of diabetes include:
- Type 1 diabetes – Your body does not make insulin or produces very little. It was once called juvenile diabetes because it usually develops in children.
- Type 2 diabetes – Your body doesn’t make or use insulin well. This is the most common type and was once called adult-onset but is increasingly common in children. Most but not all people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight.
- Gestational diabetes – A type of diabetes that develops during late pregnancy, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations. It usually goes away after delivery but can come back as Type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Pre-diabetes – You have higher than normal blood sugar that is not high enough to be called diabetes. It puts you at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
If your body doesn’t have enough insulin, glucose cannot get into the cells and the blood sugar rises. Over time, diabetes can damage your blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Diabetes can also raise your risk of heart disease or stroke and may lead to the loss of a limb.
The exact cause of various types of diabetes is unknown. If you have two or more of the following risk factors, ask your doctor about how you can prevent or delay this disease.
Risk factors for diabetes include:
- Weight – Increased weight raises insulin resistance and diabetes risk.
- Age – Risk increases with age, especially if you’re over 45 years old.
- Family history – Your risk is higher if your mother, father or a sibling has diabetes.
- Pregnancy – Gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy but can raise your risk of getting type 2 diabetes within 15 years. If your newborn weighs 9 pounds or more, you are at risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. Experts recommend diabetes screening after the 24th week of pregnancy.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS occurs when hormone imbalances cause ovarian cysts. It is common in women and raises the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Ethnicity – Some ethnic groups have a higher diabetes risk, including Native American, African-American, Hispanic or Asian heritage.
Diabetes symptoms vary. Many people with diabetes have few symptoms, even though it is already causing harm. Diabetes symptoms can include:
- Increased hunger
- Increased thirst
- Acetone breath (smells “fruity” or like nail-polish remover)
- Frequent urination
- Fatigue, drowsiness or weakness
- Trembling, confusion or dizziness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Wounds, sores or bruises that heal slowly
- Dry, itchy skin
- Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
- Frequent skin, gum, bladder or vaginal yeast infections
- Darkened skin around neck or armpits
If blood sugar becomes too high, symptoms may include shortness of breath, abdominal pain, vomiting, dehydration, and even coma and death.
Doctors use blood tests to diagnose diabetes. If you have the disease, the A1C test can show how you are managing it over time. Exercise, weight control and meal planning can help control diabetes. You’ll also need to monitor your blood glucose level and take any medicine your doctor prescribes.
Pills do not effectively treat type 1 diabetes. Insulin therapy is necessary if you have type 1 diabetes and sometimes for type 2 diabetes. If it’s needed, you’ll have to give yourself a shot by syringe or with an insulin pen, use an insulin inhaler or an insulin pump.