Diabetes is a lifelong condition when one’s blood sugar (glucose) is too high. Glucose is an important source of energy for the cells that make up the muscles and tissues. It's also the main source of fuel for the brain.
There are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, usually during childhood or adolescence. Type 2 diabetes is more common, with higher incidence in people older than 40. There is prediabetes, when blood sugar is higher, but not sufficiently to be classified as diabetes, and gestational diabetes, occurring during pregnancy, which may disappear after delivery.
Diabetes symptoms vary depending on the type. In prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, there may be no symptoms in the beginning. In type 1, symptoms are quick and severe.
Symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Wounds heal slowly
- Frequent infections of gums or skin, and vaginal infections
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. The cause is unknown. Insulin controls and enables sugar to enter the cells. Now, with little or no insulin, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream. Genetic predisposition and environmental factors are considered as causes, too.
In both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, the cells don’t produce enough insulin or they don’t react to insulin. One cause is obesity, although genetic and environmental factors aren’t excluded.
The cause of gestational diabetes, during pregnancy, is that the placenta-produced hormones make the cells insulin-resistant. Therefore, the pancreas produces extra insulin. However, if it can’t keep up, glucose stays in the blood, resulting in gestational diabetes.
Factors that may signal an increased risk are:
- Family history.
- Environmental factors (exposure to a viral illness plays a role in type 1 diabetes)
- The presence of autoantibodies, although not everyone develops diabetes.
- Insufficient physical activity
- Gestational diabetes can later turn into type 2 diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Very high cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Being a lifelong disease, diabetes can cause further complications:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neuropathy, pain in toes, fingers, numbness
- Damage of the filtering system (kidneys)
- Cataracts, glaucoma, possible blindness
- Difficulty in healing wounds, infections
- Prediabetes can turn into type 2 diabetes
- Preeclampsia (in gestational diabetes)
Prevention can refer prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. This involves: eating healthy food, regular physical activity, and normal weight. Regular check of the blood sugar is necessary.
Medication is an option to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Have your blood sugar checked at least once a year.