What Is Diabetes? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What Is Diabetes? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Diabetes mellitus, commonly known as diabetes, is a disease caused by a number of conditions in the body. It is characterized by high levels of glucose (a simplified form of sugar) in the bloodstream that eventually causes damage to internal organs and systems.

When your body functions normally, insulin is released by the pancreas whenever there is a surge of sugar levels in the bloodstream. This hormone is responsible for turning glucose into fat stores, from your bloodstream to the cells of your body. The glucose is then used by the cells to transform into energy for your body’s use, while the rest are stored as body fat.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t react to insulin well (also known as insulin resistance), or fails to produce enough of the hormone. Without the insulin to turn glucose into fat for energy use, the glucose remains in the bloodstream and raises your blood sugar levels.

Common Diabetes Causes

There are a number of reasons to why your body could develop diabetes. It could be the way your genetics are set up, your family history, the environment you live in, or your overall fitness in general. Here are some of the common risk factors:

  1. Unhealthy diet: A diet that is full of junk food and “bad carbohydrates” can eventually lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. If you’ve been living off on pizza, burger, soda, chips, rice and white bread for an extended period of time, this could increase your diabetes risk.
  2. Family history: If you have a family history of diabetes, then your risk of developing the same illness also increases.
  3. Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise: They say that “sitting is the new smoking”. If you don’t exercise and you sit in front of your work desk all day, the body is not able to get rid of its excess calories. As more fat is stored in the body, the cells eventually become more resistant to insulin, which could lead to diabetes.
  4. Inborn physiological conditions: Some people are born with a condition in which their pancreas fails to produce sufficient insulin for the body’s needs. In these cases, lifetime insulin management is required to prevent spikes of blood sugar levels in the body.
  5. Pregnancy: Some women become susceptible to diabetes during pregnancy due to changes in hormonal balance in the body.
  6. Aging: As we age, our body’s ability to metabolize glucose eventually breaks down. This causes an increase in insulin resistance and leads to diabetes.
  7. Obesity: Packing the fats in your body, especially in the abdominal area, can increase your diabetes risk. Not only that, obesity can also put you at risk of developing heart disease, cancer or stroke.

Symptoms and Signs of Diabetes

There are some common signs that you could be living with diabetes. They are:

  • frequent urination, especially during the night
  • constant and extreme thirst
  • constant fatigue
  • weight loss even with a sufficient food intake
  • genital itches
  • injuries taking a longer while to heal
  • blurry sight

Studies show that out of 10 people with diabetes, only 6 show symptoms when they are diagnosed. Nevertheless, if you notice any of these signs of diabetes present with you, make sure to go to a doctor and get a diabetes test.

Types of Diabetes

Types of Diabetes - The Giving Nature

Type 1 Diabetes

In the UK, 8% of all diabetics are afflicted by type 1 Diabetes. This type of diabetes happens when the body’s immune system destroys cells in the pancreas, the ones used to produce insulin. These are called beta cells. As a result of the destruction of the beta cells, there is a build up of sugar and fat in the bloodstream since there is no insulin to effectively absorb it on a cellular level.

There are still no exact causes for type 1 diabetes. It “just” happens. To date, doctors still aren’t quite sure why this type of diabetes comes about. But they do know that genes have a huge role to play in it. Your environment might also matter. For instance, there could be a virus in your environment that tells your immune system to attack your pancreas.

It could also come about as a result of a chemical reaction from food or any unidentified component. In a lot of cases, Type 1 Diabetes is accompanied by other autoimmune diseases like vitiligo or Grave’s disease.

Even though this type of diabetes cannot be treated, it could be kept in check by controlling the blood sugar and insulin levels in your body.

Diabetes Type 1 Symptoms:

The signs that you have Diabetes Type 1 come early on, maybe a few weeks after you develop it. They are usually not really noticeable, but can worsen over time. Some of them are:

  • extreme thirst
  • heavy breathing (doctors refer to this as Kussmaul respiration)
  • frequent infractions, most of especially of the skin, vagina or urinary tract
  • dryness in the mouth
  • constant urination
  • belly pains
  • extreme hunger (even after eating a lot)
  • fatigue
  • weight loss (even with a balanced diet)
  • vomiting

When diabetes type 1 gets severe, the following symptoms added to the ones we already mentioned could happen:

  • more belly pains
  • fruity-smelling breath
  • confusion and shaking
  • quick breaths
  • losing consciousness (in extreme cases)

Type 1 Diabetes is usually diagnosed during adolescence. But no matter the age, this type of the illness has the same diabetes symptoms. The diagnosis takes place through a blood sugar test. Your urine could be tested for glucose or the chemicals produced by your body when it lacks insulin.

According to studies, about 12% of people living with this type of diabetes develop clinical depression.

Type 1 Diabetes Treatment:

There is no treatment for Type 1 Diabetes. There are ways to live with it though.

The most important thing after diagnosis is to make sure your blood sugar levels don’t go over or under the range given by the doctor. Regular checks are needed.

You will need to adjust your food and insulin intake as well as your level of physical activity.

You will also need to take insulin injections so as to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Type 2 Diabetes:

Type 2 diabetes is the most common variety of diabetes. It is also known as adult onset diabetes. In the UK, about 90% of people living with diabetes have this type.

Your body’s cells not reacting to insulin like they normally should is the main cause of type 2 diabetes. When this disease develops, your body’s supply of insulin is no longer able to meet the demands of your sugar intake. Insulin resistance can advance to a point where the body no longer responds to the hormone and fails to metabolize sugar effectively. Overweight people could be prone to this type of diabetes.

When diabetes type 2 is not kept in check or controlled, blood sugar levels can get extremely high which could lead to very serious complications in your body later on.

Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms:

The symptoms diabetes type 2 usually don’t occur as early on as the symptoms of type 1 do. For this reason, a lot of people don’t notice anything out of the ordinary until they are diagnosed. A lot of the symptoms don’t make you feel sick. Since it develops slowly, the earlier symptoms could make you feel like nothing is wrong.

In type 2 diabetes, your cells reject the insulin that’s responsible for converting the fat and sugar in your bloodstream into energy for the whole body. This means that your body would look for energy in other sources like your organs and tissues.

Because of this, there are a number of chain reactions that can happen. These diabetes type 2 symptoms include:

  • frequent hunger pangs
  • low energy levels
  • constant fatigue
  • unusual weight loss
  • extreme thirst
  • constant urination
  • dryness in the mouth
  • itchy skin
  • blurred vision

As time progresses without treatment, or if your previously normal blood sugar level has been elevated for quite a while, you might experience more severe symptoms. They could be:

  • pain in your foot
  • dark spots appearing on your skin (called acanthosis nigricans)
  • injuries taking long to heal
  • feeling numb in all your extremities; also known as neuropathy.

This illness can be kept in check if you are able to identify the Type 2 diabetes early signs. Follow your doctor’s instructions on how often you should check your blood sugar levels. You have to stay within a particular range.

To live healthy with type 2 diabetes, you can try the following:

  • make sure your diet is full of healthy carbohydrates and fiber. Increase your intake of whole grains, vegetables and fruits so as to keep your blood sugar levels steady (also known as the diabetes diet)
  • make sure you eat enough; avoid overeating or undereating
  • leave healthy intervals between each meal
  • take care of your weight and make sure your heart is healthy. Avoid feasting on sweets, “pig out” days, and excessive intake of refined carbohydrates.
  • Perform regular aerobic exercise so that your heart can stay healthy. Your blood sugar levels can be controlled through an active lifestyle

Make sure to have a doctor follow you through and check whether you have a high or low blood sugar level. Your health professional will also inform you which foods are healthy to eat and which aren’t.

Extra insulin injections are not necessary for every Type 2 diabetes patient. It is only needed if your pancreas isn’t producing enough compared to what your body needs. Don’t self-diagnose or self-prescribe. Take insulin following your doctor’s instructions.

Aside from insulin, other medication can be prescribed to you as well. For example, some doctors might prescribe medicine for managing low blood sugar symptoms (to prevent adverse reactions such as fainting due to hypoglycemia).

Prediabetes:

Though prediabetes doesn’t really qualify as a type of diabetes, it could eventually lead to the latter illness. With prediabetes, you have an elevated blood sugar level for a prolonged period of time. Though your blood sugar level is higher than usual, it is not high enough for you to be considered a diabetic patient.

There are usually no symptoms for prediabetes. Diabetes UK patients have been growing every year because of failure to detect and diagnose prediabetes early. Because of this, doctors have concluded that the condition needs proper diagnosis.

If diagnosed with prediabetes, you can get treated immediately to prevent any further development of the disease. Lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments can be done to prevent type 2 diabetes and permanent damage to your eyes, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other organs.

Prediabetes Signs and Symptoms:

A lot of people with prediabetes do not see any particular symptoms. Lack of symptoms, however, does not equate to a clean bill of health.  If you have prediabetes, you might notice the following signs:

  • you get thirsty a lot more often
  • you urinate frequently
  • your vision gets blurry at times
  • you have constant cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.

People who are more likely to get this disease are:

  • women who had gestational diabetes or who gave birth to babies who weighed more than 4kg
  • women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • people who are obese or overweight, with high levels of belly fat
  • people living with high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and high cholesterol
  • people who do not exercise regularly or not at all
  • people who are older, as those older than 44 are more vulnerable to this disease
  • women whose waists are larger than 35 inches and men whose waists are larger than 40 inches
  • people who eat red and processed meat, and drink processed and sugary drinks regularly; but skip olive oil, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and fruit.
  • people who have sleep issues like sleep apnea or those who have shifts at night

Make sure to check for prediabetes if:

  • your blood sugar level used to be high
  • you have a heart disease
  • your body has a resistance to insulin

Gestational Diabetes:

Like the name implies, this type of diabetes comes about during pregnancy (gestation period). Like other types of diabetes, your body’s ability to metabolize glucose on a cellular level is affected when you have gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes causes high blood glucose levels that could potentially be a threat to your baby’s health and to your pregnancy.

Yes, when you have complications during your pregnancy, it is a cause for concern. It could also be very frightening. But pregnant women can control gestational diabetes through the following ways: eating healthy foods, getting exercise as guided by the doctor, and taking prescribed medication.

You can avoid birth complications if you control your sugar intake and avoid a lot of high carbohydrate foods such as soda, chocolates, cakes, and junk food. Always remember that this is just a very small sacrifice compared to your safety and your baby’s well-being.

When you have diabetes gestational illness, the good news is that you will most likely have a normal blood sugar level after you give birth. But on the downside, you could develop type 2 diabetes later on in life. Just make sure that you keep in touch with your doctor and health care team so that they can help you keep your blood sugar level in check.

To date, doctors cannot really pinpoint the exact conditions that lead to gestational diabetes. Some women develop it, and some don’t. A lot of it has to do with how your body reacts to glucose when you’re pregnant. In some pregnant women, the placenta produces hormones that counteract insulin, which makes the blood sugar level go higher than normal. It mostly occurs during the later stage of pregnancy.

You have higher risk of getting gestational diabetes if:

  • you are more than 25
  • you are overweight
  • you have prediabetes or have a diabetic family history

There are no clear warning signs or acute symptoms for gestational diabetes. It is just better to be on the safe side and go to the hospital so that a doctor could evaluate your risk of developing the condition.

World Diabetes Day

In the UK, the whole month of November is used for active campaigning about diabetes mellitus; its prevention, its causes, symptoms and how to live with it.

November 14 is the day specifically designated for the awareness of this disease over the world. On this day, awareness about the disease is spread in more then 170 countries worldwide. Started by the International Diabetes Federation in 1991, the World Diabetes Day has been observed and followed by many since then.

The theme for the year 2019 is Family and Diabetes. This theme aims to create awareness about the impact that diabetes has on those who are affected by it. It is also meant to promote the family’s role in the care, management, prevention and education relevant to diabetes.

Conclusion

Diabetes could lead to serious medical conditions, especially when not diagnosed early enough and managed. It could lead to dementia, heart diseases (attacks, stroke), neuropathy, hearing loss, foot damage, vision loss and depression. Make sure to check for signs quickly enough, and consult your doctor. If you are living with it already, follow all the instructions so as to keep your blood sugar level in check and keep yourself healthy.

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