What is diabetes and who's at risk?

What is diabetes and who's at risk.jpg
There are five types of diabetes, each with its own mechanisms and risk factors, but all pertain to uncontrolled blood sugar. Gestational diabetes can affect pregnant women.

Diabetes affects over 380 million people worldwide, according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation. By 2030, the World Health Organization estimates that number will have more than doubled.

Besides the financial implications of this disease, which amount to more than $245 billion annually in the United States alone, this has serious implications for the health and wellbeing of millions of people. Today, diabetes takes the lives of more people than breast cancer and AIDS combined.

There are five types of diabetes, each with its own mechanisms and risk factors, but all pertain to uncontrolled blood sugar. Here's what causes each kind and who might be affected.

Type 1 diabetes

Accounting for 10 percent of diabetes cases, Type 1 is usually diagnosed by age 14, though it can occasionally have a later onset. It is considered an autoimmune disorder and is hereditary, though in rare cases it may develop following injury to the pancreas.

"Type 1 diabetes is associated with deficiency of insulin," James Norman, MD, wrote for "It is not known why, but the pancreatic islet cells quit producing insulin in the quantities needed to maintain a normal blood glucose level."

Fathers are more likely to pass the gene for Type 1 diabetes to their children than mothers are.

Type 1 diabetes is controlled with insulin shots, counting carbohydrates, blood sugar monitoring, a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Type 2 diabetes

Unlike people with Type 1 diabetes, those with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but it is insufficient to control their blood sugar adequately, or their bodies become insulin resistant. It also tends to be diagnosed later in life, with most people developing it after age 45, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes include inactivity, being overweight, family medical history, race, age and environmental factors. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet can help lower your risk of developing the disease.

Gestational diabetes

When a woman develops diabetes as a result of pregnancy, it's known as gestational diabetes. It happens when hormones released by the baby's placenta result in more blood sugar than the pancreas can handle, leading to elevated blood sugar. This raises the risk of complications for both the mother and baby, including preterm labor, a higher likelihood of needing a cesarean section, the baby having a high birth weight, and an increased chance that the baby will develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include being overweight, having a family history of diabetes, having a personal history of gestational diabetes or being of a nonwhite race, according to WebMD.

Monogenic diabetes

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are considered polygenic forms of diabetes, which means their origins can be traced to multiple genes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Monogenic forms of diabetes are rare and generally stem from the mutation of a single gene, though they can mutate spontaneously on their own.

"Most mutations in monogenic diabetes reduce the body's ability to produce insulin," the NIDDK says.

Some forms of monogenic diabetes include neonatal diabetes mellitus and maturity-onset diabetes of the young. Both of these forms can be misdiagnosed as other types of diabetes. However, genetic testing helps determine the correct diagnosis and that, in turn, can ensure proper treatment.

Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes

People with cystic fibrosis are at risk of developing cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

"The thick, sticky mucus that is characteristic of the disease (cystic fibrosis) causes scarring of the pancreas," the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation explains. "This scarring prevents the pancreas from producing normal amounts of insulin."

CFRD shares characteristics with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but people with it may mistake its symptoms for other CF symptoms already present. Speak with your doctor if you experience common symptoms of hyperglycemia like weight loss and increased urination and thirst.

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