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Blog Diabetes

What is Diabetes?

writtenByWritten by: Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Read more posts by this author.

December 30, 2020 Read Time - 7 minutes

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes Mellitus, also known as just diabetes, is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that affects how your body turns food into energy.

If you have diabetes, your body does not break down sugar (glucose) appropriately.

Diabetes mellitus is a common disease and there are three common types: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational (diabetes while pregnant).

According to the CDC, more than 122 million Americans are living with diabetes (34.2 million) or pre-diabetes (88 million). 

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What is the Main Cause of Diabetes?

The main cause of diabetes is linked to damaged beta cells in the pancreas done either by genetic disposition or environmental factors.

After you eat, blood sugar is released into your bloodstream. Normally, this triggers a hormone called insulin to be released and takes blood sugar back into your body’s cells for energy.

Depending on the type of diabetes you have, insulin may not be made at all by your pancreas, is limitedly made, or is made, but your body does not respond to it well.

When you have diabetes, insulin does not perform its job properly, leading to increased blood sugar levels.

Over time, too much blood sugar in your bloodstream will cause serious health problems if not treated. 

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 95% of adults with the disease.

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion. The lack of insulin absorption causes type 2 diabetes.

The body does not absorb insulin the way it is supposed to, leading to increased blood glucose levels. 

Insulin resistance leads to the body’s decreased sensitivity to insulin. Ultimately, insulin is less effective with type 2 diabetes, but can still be made by the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes occurs more commonly among people older than 30 years old and who are obese.

Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors

Being overweight (20% over projected healthy weight) is the main risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle)
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Family history

Inheritance of type 2 diabetes is unclear, but the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is increased if it has also affected a close family member such as a parent or sibling. 

It is important to note that type 2 diabetes is also seen in children, adolescents, and young adults with a correlating factor of obesity.

According to ADA, 5,800 children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every year.

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What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes affects approximately 5% of adults with the disease.

Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the destruction of pancreatic beta cells responsible for producing insulin.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The lack of insulin causes the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. 

Is Type 1 Diabetes Genetic?

Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetic components, immunologic, and sometimes environmental (viral) factors.

It is generally accepted that genetic components are the common underlying factor. People do not inherit type 1 diabetes, but rather it is a genetic predisposition or tendency.

Do Type 1 Diabetics Produce Insulin?

Due to the extensive damage to the beta cells in the pancreas, people with type 1 diabetes do not make or use any insulin.

This causes a serious problem because insulin allows the cells in muscles, fat, and the liver to absorb glucose that is in the blood.

If your body does not get glucose into its’ cells, then they do not get the energy they need to perform properly. 

Cells then rely on burning another form of energy which results in waste production and can further damage organs.

The body burns fat instead of glucose resulting in fuel called, ketones. The buildup of waste production (ketones) is called ketoacidosis.

What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Diabetic Ketoacidosis is a condition seen in type 1 diabetics that result from the excessive breakdown of fat into ketones, resulting in a toxic environment called acidosis. High levels of ketones can poison the body.

Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood between the ages of 4 and 14, and almost always before age 40.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 18,200 people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes every year.

There are blood and urine tests that are used to diagnose type 1 diabetes.

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What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes caused by pregnancy in women. According to the ADA, 10% of pregnancies in the US are affected by gestational diabetes. Similar to other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use glucose (sugar). 

During gestational diabetes, beta cells in the mother’s pancreas fail to compensate for the demands of pregnancy, combined with reduction of insulin sensitivity, resulting in high blood sugar levels. 

Usually, once the woman is no longer pregnant, beta cells and insulin sensitivities return to normal.

However, according to the CDC, about 50% of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop Type 2 diabetes within the next 10 years.

What is Diabetes Insipidus?

Diabetes insipidus should not be confused with type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes.

Diabetes insipidus is a condition that causes the body to make too much urine.

This can happen when there are problems with a hormone called “anti-diuretic hormone,” which helps balance the amount of fluid in the body.

Diabetes insipidus is not the same as diabetes mellitus. Diabetes mellitus is a much more common disease that most people know simply as “diabetes.”

Some of the symptoms, like urinating a lot, are the same. But otherwise, they are vastly different conditions.

How Do You Treat Diabetes?

Early treatment of type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes is the most effective treatment.

Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of complications. It is important to effectively treat diabetes as soon as possible. This may include tablets or insulin injection medications. 

Medication is prescribed to treat type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Some patients can take tablets to treat their diabetes, while other patients use injectable insulin.

Injectable insulin is available in many forms and is prescribed often. Insulin injectables are available in a syringe form, pen injectable form, jet injector, insulin port, as well as an insulin pump.

Can Diabetes be Cured?

Gestational diabetes can be cured after pregnancy has ended.

Otherwise, type 1 and type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, only managed. There is no known cure for type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Both can only be controlled.

That said, many people live happy and healthy lives with their diabetes under control. With a proper medication, diet and exercise plan, diabetes can be managed.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

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Get Diabetes Treatment and Management Online

Did you know you can get diabetes treatment and management online? You can skip the doctor’s office and get treated right from the comfort of your home.

Online doctors are able to order diabetes lab tests, diagnose and treat diabetes. They can even write prescriptions for top diabetes medications such as Metformin and Insulin.

To talk to a board-certified physician about diabetes treatment and management online, book an appointment here.


Read More About Diabetes


References

American Diabetes Association. 2020. Type 1 diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/type-1 

American Diabetes Association. 2020. Type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/type-2 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/index.html

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). National diabetes statistics report, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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