Things You should Know about Diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic condition which causes high blood sugar levels due to insulin deficiencies. Typical symptoms of diabetes include extreme thirst, increased levels of hunger, and a rise in both the frequency and urgency of urination. There are two major types of diabetes, classified according to their primary mechanisms of action; they are Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, there are several other diabetic and diabetes-related conditions which have been identified.

Type 1 Diabetes

This is the genetic/hereditary form of diabetes, caused by insufficient insulin production. Insulin is a hormone which regulates the body's glycemic response, helping keep blood sugar levels in an optimized range. People with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce enough insulin to counteract rises in blood sugar levels which result from caloric intake, and thus, they experience symptoms.

Type 2 Diabetes

People with Type 2 diabetes generally develop the condition later in life, due to lifestyle factors which lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the body's cells do not react properly to the presence of insulin, and as such, their bodies struggle to bring down blood sugar levels after eating. While genetics does play a role in Type 2 diabetes, it does not play as strong a role as it does in Type 1 diabetes. Rather, lifestyle factors and certain medical conditions have stronger causality. Examples of these factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Stress
  • Poor diet, and high intake of trans-fatty acids, saturated fats, and sugar
  • Lack of exercise
  • Testosterone deficiencies
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Use of certain medications, such as atypical antipsychotics, beta blockers, and statins (anti-cholesterol drugs)

Other Types of Diabetes

The third major form of diabetes is known as "gestational diabetes," and it affects pregnant women. It is believed to be caused by a combination of hormonal and physical changes brought on by pregnancy, which increase insulin resistance. In most cases, the diabetic symptoms go away after the baby is born, but some women who develop gestational diabetes remain Type 2 diabetic for the rest of their lives. Even women whose gestational diabetes resolves spontaneously after childbirth are deemed to be at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Researchers have also identified a condition known as "prediabetes," in which the patient exhibits some early symptoms of diabetes, typically due to insulin resistance. Immediate and aggressive lifestyle changes and management techniques can neutralize or reverse prediabetes, preventing it from worsening, but in cases where the prediabetic condition is not addressed, most patients go on to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Management of Diabetes

There is no known cure for Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, or any other form of the condition. Thus, managing blood glucose levels, thereby preventing symptoms and possible complications of the disease, is the aim of diabetes management. The primary means of managing Type 1 diabetes is through insulin therapy, which makes up for the deficiencies in the body's own production and management of insulin. Patients with Type 2 diabetes often benefit from the use of metformin, an antidiabetic drug which has been proven to improve cardiovascular function in diabetic patients as well as reduce mortality rates.

Diabetics must also pay careful attention to their diets, so as to avoid spikes in their blood sugar levels. Many diabetics go on eating programs known as "diabetic diets," which involve management of both the types of foods eaten as well as the times of day at which they are eaten. Glucometers can be used to monitor blood sugar levels, and insulin or metformin can be taken to counteract blood sugar levels which are lingering in the high range.

Other approaches to diabetes management include:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels
  • Maintenance of a healthy body weight
  • Control of blood pressure

Preventing Diabetes

While there are no known preventative measures that can inhibit the development of Type 1 diabetes, there are ways to reduce risk for Type 2 diabetes. They include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • Limiting intake of saturated fats and sugars
  • Eliminating trans-fatty acids from your diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding pregnancy

Serious complications can result from diabetes, including respiratory infections, diabetic coma, diabetic ketoacidosis, dehydration, hypoglycemia (unusually low blood sugar), and periodontal disease. Recent research shows a correlation between periodontal disease and heart disease, heart attack, and Alzheimer's disease. However, with proper diagnosis and careful management, the prognosis is generally good. Most diabetics who take care of their condition go on to live healthy, normal, full lives.