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Term / Diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes. Diabetes Type 1 and 2 combined affect more than 20 million people in the U.S. alone, and another 40 million Americans have pre-diabetes (early type 2 diabetes). The causes and risk factors are different for each type:

Type 1 diabetes (juvenile onset or insulin-dependent diabetes) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system of the body mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone required to move blood sugar (glucose) into fat, muscle and liver cells to be stored and later used for energy.  Without insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream (hyperglycemia). As islet cells of the pancreas are progressively destroyed by the patient’s own immune system, daily injections of insulin are needed to move glucose into the body’s cells.

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but is most often diagnosed in children, adolescents, or young adults.  Symptoms of type 1 diabetes develop quickly over a short period of time and people may be very sick by the time they are diagnosed.

The first symptoms of diabetes (or symptoms of very high blood sugar in diabetic patients) include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred eyesight
  • Numbness and tingling in feet or hands
  • Deep, rapid breathing
  • Dry skin and mouth
  • Flushed face
  • Fruity breath odor
  • Nausea or vomiting, inability to keep down fluids
  • Stomach pain

People who are taking insulin may also develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and may quickly develop symptoms that include:

  • Headache
  • Hunger
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Weakness

Treatments for type 1 diabetes include:

  • Multiple daily injections of insulin
  • Diet management
  • Foot care
  • Medications or other treatments to reduce the complications of diabetes, including eye disease and kidney disease.

Type 2 diabetes (adult onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes) is the most common form of diabetes and results when fat, liver, and muscle cells do not respond correctly to insulin (insulin resistance).  As a result, blood sugar (glucose) is not efficiently stored or used for energy by the body’s cells, causing high levels of sugar (glucose) to build up in the blood (hyperglycemia). Because increased fat makes it harder for your body to use insulin efficiently, most people with the disease are overweight when they are diagnosed. Type 2 diabetes can also develop in people who are thin, although this is more common in the elderly.
Family history and genes play a large role in type 2 diabetes. Low activity level, poor diet, and excess body weight, particularly around the waist, increase your risk. Type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in adulthood, but is increasingly diagnosed in children as a result of increasing obesity rates. Because type 2 diabetes develops slowly, patients may have few or no symptoms at diagnosis.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Bladder, kidney, skin or other infections that seem to occur frequently or heal slowly
  • Fatigue
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Pain or numbness in feet or hands

Treatments for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Diet management
  • Regular exercise
  • Foot care

Gestational diabetes (glucose intolerance during pregnancy) is diabetes that starts or is first diagnosed during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones can block insulin from doing its job, increasing blood sugar (glucose) levels during pregnancy.

You are at greater risk for gestational diabetes if you:

  • Are older than 25 when you are pregnant
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Give birth to a baby that weighs more than 9 pounds or has a birth defect
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have excessive amniotic fluid
  • Have had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Were overweight before your pregnancy

Symptoms are usually mild and not life-threatening for the pregnant woman. Blood sugar (glucose) levels usually returns to normal after delivery.

Symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections, including those of the bladder, vagina and skin
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss despite increased appetite

Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed about halfway through the pregnancy. All pregnant women should receive an oral glucose tolerance test between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy to screen for the condition, and women with risk factors for gestational diabetes may be tested earlier in their pregnancy. The goal of treatment is to keep blood sugar (glucose) levels within normal limits during the pregnancy, and to make sure that the growing baby is healthy.

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