Diabetes is a complex disease which results from the body’s inability to create or properly use insulin. A hormone produced by the pancreas, insulin, helps the body to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy. If the body doesn’t make enough insulin or if the insulin doesn’t work the way it should, glucose (sugar) cannot enter into the body’s cells. Instead, glucose remains in the bloodstream, raising the blood sugar level and ultimately causing diabetes.
If not managed properly, diabetes can become a life threatening disease. Diabetics face higher risks for heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, extremity amputations, and other chronic conditions. People suffering from diabetes are twice as likely to die prematurely of complications stemming from the disease than those who do not have it.
Today diabetes affects an estimated 26 million Americans, or over 8% of the U.S. population.
Type 1 Diabetes
Formerly called juvenile diabetes, type 1 is an autoimmune disease that results from the body’s failure to produce insulin. The disease occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Type 1 usually develops before age 20 and is typically first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. This form of diabetes accounts for about 10% of all diabetes cases.
Type 2 Diabetes
Accounting for about 90% of cases, type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes. Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance, a condition in which the body fails to properly use insulin, combined with relative insulin deficiency. This form of diabetes is often associated with being overweight or obese. While type 2 diabetes typically develops during adulthood, the increase in childhood obesity rates has led to a growing number of children with type 2 diabetes.
A weight gain of 11 to 18 pounds increases a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes to twice that of individuals who have not gained weight. After weight loss, up to 80% of patients find they no longer have symptoms or require diabetes medication. Obese patients who are not diabetic will significantly reduce their risk of developing diabetes with weight loss.
A less common form of the disease is gestational diabetes, which strikes about 4% of all pregnant women. Although this kind of diabetes usually disappears after the mother gives birth, the disease places women at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes occurs when the mother’s body is unable to produce and use the additional insulin required to support pregnancy. If the disease remains untreated, the baby’s pancreas will begin to produce the extra insulin. This insulin reduces the high glucose levels in the bloodstream by storing the excess energy as fat, which is why many women with gestational diabetes give birth to babies weighing more than nine pounds.
Physicians now recognize a fourth form of the disease known as pre-diabetes. With pre-diabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not quite high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Researchers estimate an additional 16 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Unlike diabetes, which has no cure, pre-diabetes can be reversed through a combination of increased physical activity and weight loss.