Page 1 of 3Under normal circumstances, the glucose (sugar) levels in your blood rise after you eat a meal or snack. In response, the body produces a hormone called insulin, which is necessary in order for the body to convert glucose in your bloodstream into usable energy. But if insulin isn’t available, or if the body isn’t using it correctly, your blood glucose will remain elevated, and that can be harmful to your body. The latter describes diabetes mellitus, a serious health condition that affects millions of people. There are actually three variations of this disease, but all characterized by abnormally high levels of glucose in the bloodstream.
Type 1 Diabetes
This form of diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, meaning your own immune system is damaging your body and causing the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys cells of the pancreas (called beta cells), which are the only cells in the body that manufacture insulin. Type 1 diabetes used to be called “insulin-dependent” because people with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin via pump or injection to survive. It is sometimes called “juvenile-onset” diabetes, because it usually makes its appearance during childhood or young adulthood. Between 5% and 10% of people with diabetes have type 1, which doesn't have a cure. Type 1 diabetics must work to manage the disease for the rest of their lives.
Who’s at risk?
No one knows exactly what causes type 1 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the risk factors for developing type 1 diabetes include autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors (such as viruses). While it’s most often diagnosed in children, type 1 diabetes can occur at any age and is most prevalent in Caucasians.
Can it be prevented?
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent this form of diabetes.
What are the symptoms?
The destruction of the body’s beta cells can begin years before a person notices symptoms, which usually appear suddenly. These include: increased thirst and urination, persistent hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and severe fatigue.
How is it treated?
Since they can’t make insulin on their own, people with type 1 diabetes must supply the body with insulin by using a pump or injections. Without a steady supply of insulin, type 1 diabetics can develop diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition.
Type 2 Diabetes
In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is still manufacturing insulin, but for some reason the cells of the body are not using it properly—a condition known as insulin resistance. In response, the pancreas produces more and more insulin, wearing itself out and eventually losing its ability to produce insulin to keep blood glucose levels in the normal range. Similar to type 1 diabetes, high levels of blood glucose result, making it difficult for the body to use this glucose as fuel. Type 2 diabetes used to be called “non-insulin-dependent” or “adult-onset” or diabetes, but more and more cases are being diagnosed in children. Between 90% and 95% of diabetes cases are type 2. Like individuals with type 1, type 2 diabetics must also work to manage the disease for the rest of their lives.