Approximately 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, a condition in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that the body uses to get the sugar in the foods we eat into the body’s cells, where the sugar is used as an energy source. Sugar that doesn’t get into the cells stays in the blood, where it can increase a person’s risk for heart disease or stroke and damage the nerves, eyes, and kidneys. No one knows exactly what causes diabetes, but having a family member with diabetes, being overweight or obese and not getting enough exercise make it more likely that a person will develop diabetes.
The main types of diabetes are:
Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body produces little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes was formerly called juvenile diabetes because it was first diagnosed in childhood. An estimated 5-10% of Americans with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body does not properly use insulin or produce enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common type of diabetes. The likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes increases as a person gets older.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs in pregnant women. Gestational diabetes occurs in approximately 4% of pregnancies, but the condition usually goes away after delivery. Gestational diabetes increases the mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
In addition to these main types, there is also a condition known as Pre-diabetes that occurs when a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. An estimated 54 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Losing weight and making lifestyle changes such as eating healthier foods and exercising make it less likely that pre-diabetes will turn into diabetes.
Early signs of diabetes often seem harmless, and many people who have diabetes don’t even know it. Early detection and treatment of diabetes can make it less likely that a person will develop dangerous complications, so it’s important that people know the symptoms of diabetes. Some symptoms of diabetes include:
- Increased urination
- Increased thirst
- Increased appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased fatigue
- Blurry vision
If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away.
If left untreated, or if not treated correctly, diabetes can cause serious health problems. These complications can include:
- Eye problems and possible blindness
- Kidney disease
- Infections that might require amputation of feet or legs
- Nerve damage
- Sexual problems
- Heart attack or stroke
Because the complications of diabetes can be serious and life-threatening, it is important that diabetes is diagnosed early and that patients follow their course of treatment carefully. There is no cure for diabetes, but the goal of treating and managing diabetes is to help patients avoid complications and live full, healthy lives.