- The number of people with diabetes in the world amounted to 422 million in 2014;
- Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death, according to WHO;
- 10.5% of the US population has diabetes;
- 1.5 million people in the US are diagnosed with diabetes every year.
What is Diabetes?
To cut it short, diabetes is a chronic metabolic illness that increases the level of sugar in your blood. It affects insulin — the hormone responsible for delivering sugar from the blood to the cells. As a result, there is either not enough insulin or it’s not used properly by the body. Too much blood sugar over a long period of time can lead to serious damage to organs and even death. Diabetes can’t be completely cured yet there are ways to manage symptoms and keep the normal quality of life.
What Are the Types of Diabetes?
There are several types of diabetes. Knowing your type is vital as it influences the kind of treatment needed and the chance of possible complications.
Prediabetes is a health condition when the blood sugar is already high enough to be considered abnormal but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Most of the people with prediabetes don’t know about their condition even though it’s very common — more than 1 in 3 of Americans have prediabetes. When not diagnosed and treated properly, prediabetes can either transform into real type 2 diabetes or lead to other health complications including strokes and cardiovascular diseases. The good news is that, when diagnosed in time, prediabetes can be treated by lifestyle changes and medication and don’t let it develop into diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes) is an autoimmune disease that can neither be prevented not cured completely. Usually diagnosed at young age, type 1 diabetes makes the immune system attack pancreas cells responsible for making insulin. As a result, they either don’t make any insulin at all or can’t make enough of it to transport all the excess sugar from your blood. In this case, insulin should be delivered to blood through injections. Type 1 diabetes is rarer than other types of the disease and amounts to only 10-15% of all the diagnoses.
About 90% of all the diabetes diagnosis is type 2 diabetes. Unlike type 1, the pancreas is making enough insulin but body cells become resistant to it and the result is basically the same — too much blood sugar that harms the body. Type 2 diabetes can last for a couple of years without being diagnosed and with no visible symptoms. When diagnosed, it can be managed by medication, a healthy diet, and physical activity yet it can’t be cured completely. Regular blood sugar level checks are required. In some cases, type 2 diabetes can be prevented by early detection of prediabetes condition and taking measures.
Gestational diabetes is the diabetes of pregnant women. A woman’s body undergoes many changes during pregnancy and needs to produce more hormones to keep the pregnancy going. At some point, it may lead to the development of insulin resistance and gestational diabetes respectively. In most cases, it has no symptoms and is diagnosed by testing the level of blood sugar. Gestational diabetes may lead to pregnancy complications including premature birth and increase the chances of a baby having low blood sugar as well as developing type 2 diabetes in the future. It may also lead to the baby’s being too large which may complicate the delivery process.
What Are the Symptoms?
There are some general diabetes symptoms and the ones inherent to each specific type of the disease. General symptoms of diabetes include:
- blurry vision;
- increased thirst and hunger;
- frequent urination;
- extremely slow healing of cuts and sores;
- weight loss.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes are usually more severe and rapid and might also include stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes are milder and can slowly develop over several years. In addition to general symptoms of diabetes, there are also some gender-specific ones. Men with diabetes might experience erectile dysfunction and decreased sex drive while women will more likely experience skin dryness, yeast infections, and UTIs.
Who’s at Risk?
When it comes to type 1 diabetes, it’s harder to define the high-risk group as it’s the autoimmune disease that can rapidly develop with no preconditions at all. It’s now known that children and teens have more chances to get type 1 diabetes than adults and that having a family history of type 1 diabetes increases your chances of developing one as well.
As for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, risk factors are much more clear and include:
- having a family history of type 2 diabetes;
- being overweight;
- being 45+ years old;
- having high blood pressure and high level of cholesterol;
- not being physically active;
- having experience of gestational diabetes during pregnancy;
As for gestational diabetes, you have increased chances if you’ve already had it during previous pregnancies, have polycystic ovary syndrome or have given birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds and more.
What Are the Complications?
Diabetes alone is not as dangerous as health complications it may lead to. The longer the disease remains undiagnosed and the higher the blood sugar level is; the more chances of serious health complications you have. Some of them may include:
- cardiovascular diseases;
- hearing and vision loss;
- foot infections;
- fungal skin infections.
Gestational diabetes might also lead to stillbirth, premature birth, and preeclampsia.
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?
The basic method for diabetes diagnostic is a blood test. Nevertheless, the type of test may vary:
- The A1C1 test measures the average level of blood sugar during the past 2 months. It is able to show both prediabetes and diabetes.
- Glucose tolerance test measures the level of blood sugar before and after drinking a glucose-containing liquid.
- Random blood sugar test is a simple test made in any random moment of time;
- Fasting plasma glucose test measures the level of blood sugar after 8 hours of not eating (in most cases, it’s made in the morning).
How Is Diabetes Treated?
As we already mentioned, diabetes can’t be cured completely, except for gestational diabetes that might just go away after delivery. Nevertheless, each type of diabetes requires a specific kind of treatment to lower the risk of complications and help manage the symptoms. In most cases, type 1 diabetes requires insulin injections. Their frequency varies depending on the blood sugar level and the type of insulin — some injections act longer than the other though they need more time to start working. When it comes to type 2 diabetes, treatment depends on the severity of the condition. In some cases, diet and physical exercise might be enough. If they’re not, a variety of drugs are prescribed — from the ones that make your body produce more insulin to the ones that reduce the amount of glucose made by the liver.
How Can Diabetes Be Prevented?
Type 1 diabetes is not something you can prevent. On contrary, type 2 diabetes can be prevented both during the prediabetes stage and earlier. The list of recommendations for diabetes prevention looks like the list of “healthy lifestyle habits” and is actually the same thing. To lower the chances of developing type 2 diabetes, it’s recommended to:
- Consume less saturated fats;
- Eat more fruits and vegetables;
- Exercise at least 150 minutes per week;
- Lose some weight if you are overweight.
Whether you already have diabetes of any type or is in a high-risk group, following these recommendations is vital to decrease the chances of complications and stay relatively healthy.