What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn’t produce insulin, or properly use the insulin it does produce. The hormone insulin processes food into energy by regulating the amount of blood sugar (glucose) in the body.
Left unregulated, high blood sugar can cause damage to the nerves, eyes, blood vessels, kidneys, and other organs.
There are three major types of diabetes, with type 2 diabetes being the most common.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes can’t produce their own insulin because their body’s immune system is attacking their pancreas, the organ that makes insulin. Around 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is when the body can’t properly use the insulin made by the body, or not enough insulin is being produced. Roughly 90 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. It commonly develops in adulthood, though it’s also possible to develop type 3 diabetes in childhood.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, but is usually temporary, and disappears after the pregnancy. Only 2-5 percent of pregnancies experience gestational diabetes, though women who have experienced it are at an increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms for diabetes can vary from person to person, the type of diabetes, and gender. Someone with diabetes can have some symptoms, or none at all.
Common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Increased hunger
- Excessive thirst
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Sudden vision changes/blurry vision
- Frequent and persistent fatigue
- Very dry skin
- Sores that slowly/don’t heal
- More infections than usual
Most people with gestational diabetes won’t have any symptoms. It’s usually detected through a routine blood sugar test during weeks 24-28 of a pregnancy.
Along with the typical symptoms, men with diabetes can also experience erectile dysfunction (ED), decreased sex drive, and decrease in muscle strength or mass.
Women with diabetes can also suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, and dry, itchy skin.
The exact cause depends on the type of diabetes one has.
Type 1 diabetes
What causes type 1 diabetes, and the immune system to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, is currently unknown.
In some people, genetic/family history can play a role. It’s also possible that a virus can cause the immune system to attack.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by a combination of family history, and lifestyle factors. If you’re overweight and type 2 diabetes runs in the family, there’s an increased chance for you to develop it.
Gestational diabetes is caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy.
Early signs of diabetes
The early signs of diabetes are the same as the symptoms. If one, or more, of the symptoms of diabetes persists, it could be an early warning sign of diabetes.
There is currently no cure for diabetes, though there are methods to treat and manage the condition. The treatment options will depend on the type of diabetes, and unique needs of the person.
Usually, treatment methods involve a combination of regular monitoring of the blood sugar levels, medications, insulin treatments, and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.
When to See a Medical Doctor
Left undiagnosed, diabetes can lead to damaging, and fatal consequences to the body.
If diabetes runs in your family, you’re overweight, or you experience any of the symptoms associated with diabetes for an extended period of time, do yourself a favour and speak to a doctor.
Only a doctor can prescribe the proper methods to diagnose (through a blood test), and treat diabetes.