Diabetes is a disease much more complicated than some may think. This chronic disease can affect men, women and children. Different forms of the disease exist and can be brought about by genetics, lifestyle choices, race and even pregnancy.
Diabetes causes more deaths each year than leukemia and motor vehicle accidents combined. Having diabetes also doubles the risk for a heart attack.
Insulin, the common thread across all forms of diabetes, helps to keep blood glucose from getting too high.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and develops through genetics and lifestyle factors.
With type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin properly so the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for this deficiency. Unfortunately, over time the pancreas isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at a normal level.
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy and exercising regularly.
A person with type 2 diabetes may not have any symptoms before they are clinically diagnosed with the disease.
Typically, the disease is discovered in adulthood, but has been increasingly found in children. People on certain types of diabetes medications or insulin may develop hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels).
Type 1 diabetes makes up the majority of children with diabetes, though the disease can begin at any age. With type 1 diabetes, the body simply doesn’t produce the insulin it needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and unknown factors and cannot be prevented. People often seek medical help because they are seriously ill from sudden symptoms of high blood sugar. All people with type 1 diabetes must be treated with insulin.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman has high levels of glucose in her blood. With gestational diabetes, a diagnosis doesn’t mean the mother had diabetes before she conceived, or that the mother will have diabetes after she gives birth. However, women with gestational diabetes should be checked after they deliver their baby to ensure that the diabetes has been resolved. Also, women who have had gestational diabetes are much more likely to develop it again in the future and should be screened accordingly.
Gestational diabetes typically occurs around the 24th week of pregnancy and, if left untreated, can harm the fetus. It’s crucial for a mother to follow her doctor’s advice regarding blood glucose (blood sugar) levels while pregnant, so she and her baby can both remain healthy.
During pregnancy, a pregnant woman’s insulin needs can be two- to- three times more than what she would normally require. The high blood glucose (blood sugar) is caused because the mother cannot produce enough insulin.
Poorly controlled diabetes can greatly increase a person’s risk for a range of serious complications, including blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, foot or leg amputations and stroke, among others.
Living with diabetes
“Each disease has different risk factors and differing biological processes,” says Dr. Kenneth Snow, M.D., a medical director at Aetna. “How diabetes comes about and how it’s treated can and does differ person-to-person.”
No one chooses to have diabetes, Snow says, though some risk factors for type 2 diabetes can be avoided, like excess weight, unhealthy food choices and inactivity. “A healthy lifestyle is one component of managing diabetes and pre-diabetes, even if it’s not the only component to treating diabetes. Lifestyle changes in general often are not enough to effectively manage the disease on their own.”
Snow advises anyone with diabetes to set reasonable, attainable goals for physical and mental health. “Diabetes is a frustrating and serious condition that requires daily management,” he said. “Ask for help if you need it, educate others about your needs and don’t beat yourself up for doing the best you can.”