Diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly regulate blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in childhood (“juvenile” diabetes) and appears suddenly, and primarily means the patient must take insulin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes typically appears in middle age or the elderly and occurs when body cells become less responsive to insulin. A third type, gestational diabetes, only occurs during pregnancy and is thought to be related to changes in female sex hormones.
Having a family history of diabetes is the most prominent risk factor for developing the disease. Viral infections may also be connected to type 1 diabetes, and dietary factors can play a role. The risk of type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity and increases with age. Genetics and ethnic background can also play a role in type 2 diabetes. Overweight women or those who become pregnant over the age of 25 are at an increased risk of gestational diabetes.
The level of sugar in the blood affects every cell in the body, meaning that diabetes can affect every organ and metabolic function. Those who have diabetes are more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney failure. Diabetes can affect the nerves and cause diabetic neuropathy, which decreases sensation, especially in the feet. Blindness can also result from an eye condition called “diabetic retinopathy.”
Treatment depends on the type of diabetes, although dietary modifications are the norm in all cases. Type 1 diabetes requires the administration of insulin. Mild type 2 diabetes may be controlled with diet and exercise, but more advanced cases typically require oral medications and insulin. Some women with gestational diabetes may also need insulin. In addition, managing complications, like high blood pressure or kidney failure is essential in the treatment of diabetes.