Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is important to your health because it is an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It is also the main source of fuel for your brain.
Chronic diabetic conditions include type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetic conditions include prediabetes and gestational diabetes.
Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. And this is often a precursor to diabetes unless appropriate measures are taken to halt its progression. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy but may resolve after the baby is delivered.
Symptoms may vary depending on how high your blood sugar is. Some people, especially those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, may not experience symptoms at times. In type 1 diabetes, symptoms tend to come on quickly and become more severe.
Some of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are:
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections, such as gums or skin infections and vaginal infections
- Slow-healing sores
Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, although it most often appears during childhood or adolescence. Type 2 diabetes, the more common type, can develop at any age, although it is more common in people over the age of 40.
When to see a doctor
- If you suspect you or your child may have diabetes. If you notice any possible symptoms contact your doctor. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.
- If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes. After you receive your diagnosis, you’ll need close medical follow-up until your blood sugar levels stabilize.
Causes of type 1 diabetes
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. What is known is that your immune system – which normally fights off harmful bacteria or viruses – attacks and destroys your insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It leaves you with little or no insulin at all. Instead of being carried to your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream.
Type 1 is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors, although exactly what those factors are is still unclear. Weight is not considered a factor in type 1 diabetes.
Causes of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
In prediabetes – which can lead to type 2 diabetes – and in type 2 diabetes, your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and your pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of going to your cells where it needs energy, sugar builds up in your bloodstream.
Exactly why this happens is uncertain, although it is believed that genetic and environmental factors also play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with type 2 is overweight.
Causes of gestational diabetes
During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones to maintain your pregnancy. These hormones make your cells more resistant to insulin.
Normally, your pancreas responds by producing enough extra insulin to overcome this resistance. But sometimes your pancreas can’t heal. When this happens, too little glucose gets into your cells and too much stays in your blood, resulting in gestational diabetes.
Risk factors depend on the type of diabetes.
Risk factors for Type 1 diabetes
- Family history
- The presence of damaging immune system cells (autoantibodies)
- Environmental factors
Risk factors for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes
- Family history
- Race or ethnicity
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes
- Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Risk factors for Gestational diabetes
- Family or personal history
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. However, the same healthy lifestyle choices that help treat prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes can also help prevent them:
- Eat healthy foods
- Lose excess pounds
- Get more physical activity