Mayuri Bhakta
FNP-BC Medcor Provider

Did you know that 34.2 million U.S. adults have diabetes? Over the last 20 years, the number of U.S. adults diagnosed with diabetes has doubled due to increasing obesity and an aging population.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects your body’s ability to process blood sugar. Your body breaks down most of the food you eat into glucose (a type of sugar) and releases glucose into the bloodstream. Glucose helps supply your body’s cells with energy. Glucose is also stored in your liver and is released when your blood glucose levels are low, like when you have not eaten in a while.

Glucose enters the cells from the bloodstream with the help of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas and helps to regulate how much glucose is circulating in the blood. When the blood glucose levels are high, the pancreas secretes insulin to help glucose go from the blood into your body’s cells. As the blood glucose levels drop, the pancreas slows down the release of insulin so that your blood sugar does not drop to levels that are too low.

It is important to know the role of glucose and insulin and how the relationship between these two can lead to diabetes.

What are the types of diabetes?

The three main types of diabetes include Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

The exact cause of diabetes type 1 is unknown, but it is known that the body has an autoimmune response to the body’s insulin-producing cells—meaning it attacks its own insulin producing cells in the pancreas. This causes the body to be left with little-to-no insulin and leads to elevated blood sugar levels.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. Only 5–10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

Risk factors include:

  • Younger age: It is more often diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults.
  • Family history of type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90–95% of people with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body’s cells become resistant to insulin, so the body is not able to use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes usually develops over several years.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Family history
  • History of prediabetes (higher-than-normal blood sugar levels)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Age 45 years or older
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • History of gestational diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating healthy foods, and being active.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women who have not previously been diagnosed with diabetes. The exact cause of gestational diabetes is not known. During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones to support the pregnancy, but sometimes, these hormones can block the use of insulin in the mother’s body, leading to insulin resistance. Gestational diabetes can also occur if the mother’s body is unable to produce enough insulin.

Women who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Risk factors include:

  • History of gestational diabetes
  • History of giving birth to a baby greater than 9 lbs.
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Age 25 years or older
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • History of polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Race—including African American, Hispanic/Latino American, or Alaskan Native

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms of diabetes can vary from person to person. People with a new onset of type 1 diabetes may develop symptoms more rapidly as their body’s blood glucose levels can rise more rapidly. Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed during routine OB appointments so symptoms may not be present, or they may be hard to distinguish from other symptoms of pregnancy.

Symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst and/or hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent infections
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Ketones in the urine

What kind of evaluation do I need?

First, your healthcare provider will gather information such as your past medical history, family history, and any signs and symptoms you may be experiencing.

Tests that can help diagnose and monitor diabetes include:

  • Fasting blood glucose tests, which measure your blood sugar after you have not had anything to eat or drink overnight or for a certain number of hours.
  • Random blood sugar tests, which measure your blood sugar at any time.
  • Hemoglobin A1C tests, which measure your average blood sugar over the past 2–3 months.
  • Glucose screening tests, which are usually performed to screen for gestational diabetes.
  • Glucose tolerance tests, which measure your blood sugar before and after you drink a liquid containing glucose.

What are potential complications of diabetes?

The CDC reports that combined medical costs, lost work time, and lost wages for people with diabetes is $327 billion annually. People with diabetes experience twice the medical costs of people without diabetes. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke. High blood sugar levels in people with diabetes can lead to kidney damage. Diabetes can cause blood vessel damage and nerve damage, leading to pain and numbness and infection in different areas of the body. Infections in the feet may necessitate amputations. Blood vessel damage can cause blindness. Gestational diabetes can cause serious health problems for mother and child.

What kind of treatments are available?

Treatment recommendations will be based on your assessment including history, physical, and lab results. If your healthcare provider diagnoses you with diabetes, you will be given a detailed treatment plan that may include lifestyle changes and/or medications. People with type 1 diabetes always need insulin therapy; insulin therapy may also be needed for people with type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Speak with your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about diabetes.

This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition or to give medical advice. Always consult your primary care provider for healthcare instructions. External links are provided as references and do not indicate an endorsement by Medcor. External links are subject to other sites’ terms of use and privacy policies.

References

American Diabetes Association, “Diabetes,” https://diabetes.org/diabetes

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Diabetes Fast Facts,” June 11, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/quick-facts.html