Exploring diabetes: Part one – What is diabetes?

Learn more about the health effects of diabetes, as well as the three different types of diabetes and the symptoms associated with this disease.

Letters that spell out
Photo: Pexels/Artem Podrez.

This is part of an article series on diabetes. Part two can be viewed here, and part three can be viewed here.

Diabetes is a disease that affects metabolism and is characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood. Diabetes makes it difficult for the body to turn food into energy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  more than 37 million American adults have diabetes, and one in five don’t even know they have it.

There are three different types of diabetes:

  • Type I. This used to be referred to as juvenile diabetes; however, type 1 diabetes can affect anyone at any time. Type I diabetes is most prevalent in children, teenagers, and young adults. The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is not known, but genetics, environmental influences and other factors may play a role in the development of the disease. Little or no insulin is produced by the pancreas, so a person with Type 1 diabetes must treat their disease with insulin, diet, exercise, and self-management.
  • Type 2. Previously referred to as adult-onset diabetes, this is the most common form of diabetes and can affect children, teens, and young adults but most frequently develops in people over the age of 45. Unhealthy weight, age, family history, lack of exercise and/or a history of gestational diabetes are some risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with diet and exercise; however, some people may need to take oral medication and/or insulin.
  • Gestational. This type of diabetes develops during pregnancy and usually occurs later in the pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually disappears after the baby is born. Age, family or personal history, unhealthy weight, high blood pressure and/or complications during previous pregnancy are risk factors associated with gestational diabetes. Untreated or uncontrolled blood sugar can cause the fetus to grow larger in size. Babies born from people with gestational diabetes are also at a higher risk of low blood sugar, breathing difficulties and/or jaundice after they are born so it is very important for people with this condition to work with their doctor to control blood sugar during pregnancy.  

Symptoms associated with all three types of diabetes can include increased thirst and urination and/or increased or extreme hunger and fatigue. There are additional symptoms, some of which may go unnoticed, so it is very important to get regular physicals and communicate with your healthcare professional if you have a family history of diabetes.

Understanding Pre-Diabetes

Prediabetes occurs when a person’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC  96 million people (more than one in three) have prediabetes, and more than 80% do not know they have it. The good news is that the onset of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and/or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating healthy and increasing physical activity.  

MSU Extension provides programs such as Diabetes PATH and Dining With Diabetes that can help adults learn more about this disease along with tools and resources to help them manage diabetes.    

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