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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is the body’s inability to produce insulin, resulting in large amounts of glucose in the blood and urine and affecting the body’s ability to use blood sugar for energy.

The cause of diabetes is unknown, yet it affects almost 24 million people in the United States, and almost one-quarter of them do not know they have the disease. Many people are genetically predisposed to the disease, while obesity and lack of physical activity are also contributing factors.

It is important to be informed about your health. Without care, diabetes can cause serious health complications, even premature death. Paying attention to your health and recognizing the symptoms of diabetes and other health issues is one of the best steps you can take toward a healthy future.

Source: American Diabetes Association

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Symptoms of diabetes

Many of the symptoms of diabetes are so common they may be unrecognizable. If you experience more than one of these symptoms on a regular basis, contact your doctor. The early detection and treatment of diabetes lead to a decreased chance of complications with the disease.

Symptoms include:

  • frequent urination
  • excessive thirst
  • extreme hunger
  • unusual weight loss
  • increased fatigue
  • irritability
  • blurry vision
  • dry mouth
  • headaches
  • nausea/vomiting
  • dry, itchy skin

Source: American Diabetes Association

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Types of diabetes

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes usually affects children and young adults and was previously known as juvenile diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells, the cells that make hormone insulin. Insulin is the hormone that changes glucose (sugar), along with starches and other food, into energy needed for everyday life. The risk factors for Type 1 diabetes are autoimmune (an immune response against the body’s own cells), genetic and environmental (dietary, infectious and physical).

Having Type 1 diabetes can increase your risk for other health complications, such as heart disease, kidney damage and blindness.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. With Type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin, or the cells ignore the insulin produced.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, genetics, and history of gestational diabetes, race/ethnicity, physical inactivity, and impaired glucose metabolism. The people most commonly affected by Type 2 diabetes are the elderly, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders.

Having Type 2 diabetes also increases your risk for other health complications like nerve damage, kidney damage, and heart disease.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy. Even if pregnant women have never had diabetes, if they have high blood sugar during pregnancy, they are said to have gestational diabetes.

It is believed that insulin resistance causes gestational diabetes. The right treatment will aid in a healthy pregnancy and birth. Gestational diabetes typically disappears soon after pregnancy, as blood sugar levels usually return to normal after delivery, but the chances are higher that it will return in future pregnancies.


People develop pre-diabetes before they have Type 2 diabetes. A condition is considered pre-diabetes when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. If you have pre-diabetes, the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes have already started, and Type 2 diabetes can develop in less than 10 years. With the right treatment, however, the development of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.

Source: American Diabetes Association

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Marc I. Sandberg, MD, FACP, CDE

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