Diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of blood sugar or glucose.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, and 86 million more Americans have prediabetes, which puts them at greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. Both are serious diseases that increase a person’s risk of heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, neurological problems, and damage to blood vessels and organs. In fact, people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes have double the risk of heart attacks, compared to those who don’t have the disease.
Long-term, the effects of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be staggering. Diabetes is the number one cause of vision loss in adults. It can also lead to kidney damage, which in some cases can require dialysis, the help of a machine to remove toxins from the body. Diabetes can cause a decrease in sensation of the feet, and small cuts can progress to larger wounds, which may be difficult to heal. In serious cases, the wounds lead to amputation of the toes, feet or limbs.
The causes of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are different. Type 1 diabetes, sometimes called juvenile-onset diabetes, is an autoimmune disease, caused when the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of going into the cells, where it is normally used as fuel for energy. Insulin needs to be injected under the skin several times a day to treat Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes typically occurs in childhood or young adulthood. It is far less common than Type 2 diabetes, accounting for only about 5 percent of all cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We aren’t sure what causes it, but studies suggest there is a link to genetics and environmental factors.
Symptoms come on suddenly. They include thirst, hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, weight loss, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and rapid breathing,
Type 2 diabetes often is diagnosed in adulthood. The body is still producing insulin, but there is a resistance to it. Insulin cannot open the doors to the cells, so the sugar cannot get into the cell and then builds up in the blood. Risk factors include obesity, family history, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are at increased risk to develop Type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms develop over time, often causing damage before a person knows he or she has diabetes. Symptoms include frequent infections, fatigue, frequent urination, thirst, hunger, blurred vision, pain or numbness in the hands and feet, and erectile dysfunction in men.
Diabetes can be most effectively treated if it is diagnosed early before the damage is done. That is why it’s important to get your glucose levels or A1c tested.
If you have prediabetes, you and your doctor can come up with a plan to keep you from developing full-blown diabetes. And if you are diagnosed with diabetes, you can learn ways to keep your disease under control so you can lead the healthiest life possible.
If you haven’t done so within the past year or two, talk to your doctor about diabetes and whether there is anything you should be doing to protect yourself from this disease.