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Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, Risks, Diagnosis And Treatment

Every year, the month of November is observed as the Diabetes Awareness Month - celebrated globally to raise awareness about both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. And, 14 November is observed as World Diabetes Day which is the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922.

The day was initiated in 1991 by the IDF and the World Health Organization as a response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat posed by diabetes. The theme of World Diabetes Day and diabetes awareness month 2019 is 'Family and Diabetes'.

Diabetes Awareness Month 2019 also aims to focus on the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease. On this awareness month, let us take a look at the different types of diabetes and the impact it can have on the human body.

Diabetes mellitus or diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce any or enough insulin. Insulin helps regulate the blood sugar level by either absorbing the glucose in the blood or storing it in your body for future usage [1] . Though there is no permanent cure for diabetes, it can definitely be kept in check with a mix of a healthy lifestyle, exercise and medication. Continue reading to find out how you can deal with this condition and some necessary tips to keep it under control.

Types Of Diabetes

Diabetes is categorised into 4 types.

1. Type 1 diabetes: It occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin totally.

2. Type 2 diabetes: Unlike type 1 diabetes, the pancreas secretes insulin in this case. However, for the most part, it is not enough to break glucose and enable it to be absorbed into our cells. Simultaneously, when the body ceases to respond and use the produced insulin, it triggers the symptoms of type 2 diabetes [2] .

3. Prediabetes: When the blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes, it is called prediabetes [3] .

4. Gestational diabetes: Some expecting mothers tend to develop symptoms of diabetes during pregnancy. It is called gestational diabetes [4] .

Causes Of Diabetes

1. Type 1 diabetes: The insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are attacked by the immune system, causing it to stop producing the hormone. Researchers believe, this happens due to genetic or other environmental factors or onset of a virus attack [5] .

2. Type 2 diabetes: There are several factors responsible for type 2 diabetes. The probable causes involve genetics and family history, lifestyle factors and insulin resistance.

People who are not physically active run a higher risk to develop this kind of diabetes. Insulin resistance occurs when your muscle, liver and fat cells cannot use insulin effectively. Extra fat in your body, especially belly fat could lead to insulin resistance. [6] .

3. Gestational diabetes: The hormonal changes and weight variation result in gestational diabetes at times. Like type 2 diabetes, this is also related to extra weight around the belly area. Women who were already overweight, tend to build insulin resistance due to the extra weight during pregnancy [7] .

Other factors such as side effects of medication, damage or removal of the pancreas, hormonal diseases also act as potential causes of diabetes.

Symptoms Of Diabetes

1. Type 1 diabetes

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes are more severe and could occur suddenly. They are as follows:

  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue (weakness)
  • Loss of consciousness (rarely)
  • Dry mouth

2. Type 2 diabetes

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop gradually. Apart from the above-mentioned ones, they also include the following:

  • Slow healing sore or cuts or infections
  • Itchiness of the skin (especially around the vaginal or groin area)
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Urinary tract or yeast infections (in women)
  • Decreased sex drive or erectile dysfunction (in men)

3. Gestational diabetes

It is mostly detected through routine blood sugar test and does not usually show symptoms. In rare cases, expectant mothers with this condition may feel increased thirst or increased urge of urination.

Risk Factors Of Diabetes

1. Type 1 diabetes: Kids and teenagers with a family history of type 1 diabetes, are more likely to be affected by it.

2. Type 2 diabetes: Few factors contribute to the risk of growing type 2 diabetes symptoms, such as

  • obesity,
  • age (45 or more),
  • family history of type 2 diabetes,
  • little or no daily exercise,
  • race,
  • a history of gestational diabetes and
  • depression [8] .

3. Gestational diabetes: The risk factors of this kind include the following:

  • Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Age (more than 25)
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • History of gestational diabetes during past pregnancy
  • Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Obesity [7]

Diagnosis Of Diabetes

Three most common tests that are performed to diagnose diabetes are as follows:

A fasting plasma glucose test: This test measures the blood glucose level post 8 hours of fasting. It is used to diagnose both diabetes and prediabetes.

Oral glucose tolerance test: The test subjects are asked to fast for 8 hours (without eating or drinking anything apart from water) and then consume a glucose-containing beverage. Pathologists check the blood sugar level before and two hours after drinking the beverage. This shows how the body reacts to glucose.

Random plasma glucose test: In this test, the blood sugar level is checked irrelevant of the time of last meal. Though this test is helpful in detecting syndromes of diabetes, it doesn't work for prediabetes diagnosis [10] .

Blood test for gestational diabetes: The blood sugar level is generally checked between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy to determine the possibility of this kind of diabetes [11] .

Treatment For Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes: Insulin is the primary and most commonly used method of treatment for this type. This helps to replace the missing insulin that the body stops producing. Doctors mostly use 4 types of insulin, depending on how fast they work and how long their effects last.

Type 2 diabetes: Exercise and a balanced diet can be helpful in controlling this type. However, when the lifestyle changes are not sufficient, doctors prescribe medication in order to keep the effects of diabetes at bay. Doctors generally work with patients to help them track the blood sugar level and determine the best insulin dosage for each individual [12] .

Gestational diabetes: It is advisable to monitor the blood sugar level closely and make necessary changes in your diet during pregnancy. Apart from that, pregnant women are also given insulin to bring the blood sugar level down [13] .

Prevention Of Diabetes

Though you cannot prevent type 1 diabetes, as it is triggered by the immune system and certain genetics, most of the risk factors of type 2 diabetes are preventable. Factors like genes and age factors that are not under anyone's control. However, you can maintain a certain prevention strategy to stay safe from type 2 diabetes. Here is a run-down of the most important tips to prevent type 2 diabetes:

  • Cut down sugar, refined carbohydrate, saturated and trans fats from your diet and switch to whole wheat. [14]
  • Get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise (such as walking or cycling) on a weekly basis. [15]
  • Incorporate vegetables and fruit in your diet to make your it fibre-rich. [16]
  • Quit smoking
  • Check your BMI (Body Mass Index) on a regular basis and lose extra pounds if you are overweight, as obesity increases the risk of diabetes. [17]
  • Drink more water
  • Reduce intake of processed food [18]
  • Eat smaller portions [18]

To sum it up, diabetes is not a life-threatening condition. With a controlled and modified lifestyle, you can continue living a healthy life for years even with diabetes.

View Article References
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  2. [2] Rother K. I. (2007). Diabetes treatment--bridging the divide.The New England journal of medicine,356(15), 1499–1501.
  3. [3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (). Awareness of prediabetes--United States, 2005-2010.MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report,62(11), 209–212.
  4. [4] Hedderson, M. M., Gunderson, E. P., & Ferrara, A. (2010). Gestational weight gain and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus.Obstetrics and gynecology,115(3), 597–604.
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  8. [8] Hardy, O. T., Czech, M. P., & Corvera, S. (2012). What causes the insulin resistance underlying obesity?.Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity,19(2), 81–87.
  9. [9] Gillett M. J. (2009). International Expert Committee report on the role of the A1c assay in the diagnosis of diabetes: Diabetes Care 2009; 32(7): 1327-1334.The Clinical biochemist. Reviews,30(4), 197–200.
  10. [10] Hartling, L., Dryden, D. M., Guthrie, A., Muise, M., Vandermeer, B., Aktary, W. M., … Donovan, L. (2012). Screening and diagnosing gestational diabetes mellitus.Evidence report/technology assessment, (210), 1–327.
  11. [11] Silver, B., Ramaiya, K., Andrew, S. B., Fredrick, O., Bajaj, S., Kalra, S., … Makhoba, A. (2018). EADSG Guidelines: Insulin Therapy in Diabetes.Diabetes therapy : research, treatment and education of diabetes and related disorders,9(2), 449–492.
  12. [12] Brown, J., Grzeskowiak, L., Williamson, K., Downie, M. R., & Crowther, C. A. (2017). Insulin for the treatment of women with gestational diabetes.The Cochrane database of systematic reviews,11(11), CD012037.
  13. [13] Bolla, A. M., Caretto, A., Laurenzi, A., Scavini, M., & Piemonti, L. (2019). Low-Carb and Ketogenic Diets in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.Nutrients,11(5), 962.
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