Chances are, you know someone with diabetes, or someone in your family has it. But what causes it? How does a person develop the symptoms of diabetes? And are you at risk for diabetes? There are two types of diabetes (three if you count gestational diabetes) that people can get. These differ as to their cause and treatment. Today, we’re going to talk about the two major types of diabetes and if you’re at risk for developing diabetes. My paternal grandfather had Type 1 Diabetes and my dad has Type 2 Diabetes. I’ve also known numerous people who have diabetes, so it’s something that is fairly prevalent in my life.
Before we talk about the types of diabetes and risk factors, let’s talk about what diabetes is: Diabetes means that the body has an inability to produce or use insulin. Insulin is an essential hormone that lets you use glucose as energy. Without it, glucose will build up in your blood and cause untold amounts of damage to your organs – especially your kidneys, hearts, nerves, and eyes.
The two main types of Diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2, known previously as Juvenile Diabetes and Adult Onset, respectively.
Also called juvenile onset diabetes, Type I usually occurs in people under the age of 25. The pancreas, often due to an autoimmune problem (the body attacks its own pancreatic cells) becomes disabled and can no longer produce insulin. Type I tends to run in families and will affect the person for the rest of his or her life. Insulin will be required and perhaps other medications throughout the diabetic’s life.
In some individuals, their own immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys its cells, thereby rendering it useless. In others with Type I diabetes, an injury or pancreatic surgery destroys the pancreas to the point that it can no longer produce insulin.
Type I diabetes has a different demographic than Type II. Children as young as 2 or as old as 22 can be diagnosed with Type I diabetes – hence the alternate name for Type I diabetes: juvenile diabetes. However, older people can certainly develop Type I diabetes, especially if there is injury to the pancreas.
This type of diabetes usually occurs later in life. Its symptoms are similar to Type I – excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, frequent urination, fatigue, tingling in the extremities, etc. – but unlike Type I, Type II can often be managed with diet and exercise, especially if it’s caught early. Some sources note that it never really “goes away,” but its severity varies.
Type II diabetes may have some hereditary factors, too, but not to the clear-cut degree that Type I does. In Type II, the body becomes resistant to the insulin that the pancreas is still producing. Or, Type II diabetics have a functioning pancreas but the organ does not produce enough insulin. Older individuals and those who are overweight are considered more at risk for developing Type II diabetes than those with a healthy body weight and lifestyle.
Type II diabetics usually have a functioning pancreas; it just doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the insulin it does produce is not processed or recognized by the body (insulin resistance).
What causes diabetes?
An auto-immune disorder might trigger Type I diabetes, as the body’s immune system can inexplicably attack the pancreas and destroy its cells. There might also be some other way that the pancreas gets damaged, which is not age specific.
Type II diabetes may be triggered by unhealthy, sugar-rich diets and a sedentary lifestyle. The pancreas may simply become exhausted trying to keep the blood sugar down in response to the constant influx of sugar from the diet.
Other possibilities for triggers include high blood pressure and stress. While it’s not directly proven as a causal factor, individuals with high blood pressure are statistically more likely to develop diabetes than those with normal blood pressure.
Here are the risk factors for diabetes (Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes).
Risk factors for Type 1 Diabetes are:
* Genetics and family history – If you have a mom, dad, sister, or brother with Type 1 diabetes, then you should get regularly screened for diabetes.
* Pancreatic disease, infection or illness – There are many different types of illnesses and diseases that can damage the pancreas, causing Type 1 diabetes. If you have any of these illnesses it’s important to get regular screenings.
Risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes are:
* Obesity – If you are even a little bit overweight, your risk factor for Type II diabetes goes up. However, if you are actually obese you’re at an even higher risk and it’s probably a question of when, not if, you will develop Type II diabetes.
* Sedentary – If you don’t exercise for at least one hour three times a week, you are sedentary and your risk factor for Type II diabetes goes up. If you have a job that requires you to sit more than four hours a day and you don’t make a special effort to exercise each day, you are also sedentary.
* Genetics – If you have a family history of diabetes you’re much more likely to develop it as well. This is especially true with first degree relatives like a mom or dad, brother or sister.
* Glucose intolerance – This is really pre-diabetes. It simply means that you’re at a high risk of developing actual diabetes due to the fact that you already have higher blood sugar levels than is normal.
* Insulin resistance – If you have cells that resist the insulin your body is pumping out, keeping your blood sugar high, it can make your pancreas work too hard trying to clear the body of sugar.
* Ethnicity – Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Alaska natives all have a higher incident of Type II diabetes.
* Age – Even age can play a part, especially if you have any of the other risk factors. You can develop Type II diabetes at any age, but if you’re over the age of 45 you’re more likely to develop it if you have any of the other risk factors.
Risk factors for Gestational Diabetes (diabetes developed during pregnancy) are:
* Maternal obesity – It’s important for any woman planning pregnancy to try to get their BMI normal through diet and exercise.
* Genetics – If Mom, Dad, brothers or sisters have diabetes or had GD during pregnancy you’re at a higher risk.
* Member of a high risk group – The same high risk group mentioned for Type II diabetes is also at a greater risk for developing GD.
* Large birth weight baby – Having a baby more than 9 lbs predisposes you to a higher probability of having GD.
* Having GD in prior pregnancy – If you had it before, you may develop it again.
* Polyhydramnios – If you have too much amniotic fluid, you are at a higher risk of developing GD.
Diabetes can strike at any time and at any stage of your life. Regardless of your risk factors, make going to the doctor for a yearly exam, including a blood sugar check, part of your regular health monitoring. Catching problems earlier rather than later can save you a lot of problems, since having diabetes can contribute to a whole host of other health issues.