Exploring diabetes: Part one – What is diabetes?

Learn more about diabetes by reading this a short overview of the health effects, the three different types of diabetes and the symptoms associated with this disease

Diabetes is a disease that affects metabolism and is characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood. Basically, it’s a disease that makes it difficult for the body to turn food into energy. According to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million Americans (9.3 percent of the population) had diabetes in 2012. Approximately 1.4 million are diagnosed with diabetes each year.

There are three different types of diabetes:

Type I – Previously referred to as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes can affect anyone at any time but is most prevalent in children, teenagers and young adults. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not known, but genetics, environmental influences and other factors may play a role in the development of the disease. Little or no insulin is produced by the pancreas so a person with type 1 diabetes must treat their disease with insulin, diet, exercise and self-management.

Type 2 – Previously referred to as adult-onset diabetes, this is the most common form of diabetes and can affect people of any age but most frequently develops during adulthood.  Unhealthy weight, age, family history, lack of exercise and/or a history of gestational diabetes are all risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with diet and exercise, however, some people may be required to take oral medication and/or insulin.

Gestational - This type of diabetes develops when a woman is pregnant and usually occurs later in the pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually disappears after the baby is born. Age, family or personal history, unhealthy weight, high blood pressure and/or complications during previous pregnancy are risk factors associated with gestational diabetes. Untreated or uncontrolled blood sugar can cause the fetus to grow very large. Babies born from mothers with gestational diabetes are also at a higher risk of low blood sugar, breathing difficulties and/or jaundice after they are born so it’s very important for women with this condition to work with their doctor to control blood sugar during her pregnancy.  

Symptoms associated with all three types of diabetes include increased thirst and urination and/or increased or extreme hunger and fatigue. There are additional symptoms, some of which may go unnoticed, so it’s very important to get regular physicals and communicate with your healthcare professional if you have a family history of diabetes.   

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