Diabetes is a serious lifelong disease that is associated with several severe complications and can result in permanent disability or even loss of life. The most significant issue with diabetes is high sugar levels that can cause permanent damage to many organs in the body, including the heart, eyes, kidneys, brain, blood vessels, and nerves. Unfortunately, the disease can also result in premature death from heart attacks, strokes, and/or kidney failure.
Some Facts About Diabetes
Currently, there are approximately 34 million people with diabetes in the United States, but it is estimated that there are at least 7 million more Americans for whom the disease has not yet been diagnosed. There are two basic types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is where the hormone insulin is not made by the pancreas. This condition usually presents itself much earlier in life.
- Type 2 diabetes is where insulin is present in the pancreas but for some unknown reason, it is not released into the circulation or there is insulin resistance.
The key problem in diabetes is that the sugar levels remain high because the hormone, insulin, which controls blood sugar, is often absent or not released from the pancreas. When the blood sugars remain elevated for a prolonged period of time, they can lead to devastating health complications, most of which cannot be reversed. Diabetes not only increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and blindness, but it impairs the quality of life for many.
What is the Main Cause of Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes
The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is not known but what is well established is that in these individuals, the body’s protective immune cells attack and destroy the pancreas, thus there is no insulin produced. It is believed that a prior viral infection may trigger the abnormal immune response towards the pancreas. The disorder also has a genetic component; therefore, if someone in your family has Type 1 diabetes, the risk to other siblings is also increased, as well as any children of that person. Type 1 diabetes is a permanent condition and for survival, patients will need insulin injections for the rest of their life. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 10% of the total number of diabetes cases
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body’s tissues do not respond to insulin. Insulin is produced in these individuals but there is abnormally high resistance to it from the rest of the body, leading to the build-up of glucose. One very common cause of Type 2 diabetes is obesity. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with a sedentary lifestyle and genetic factors. Lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and weight gain can also increase the risk of the disease. The condition also runs in families; hence, if one member of the family has Type 2 diabetes, other members are also likely to develop the condition.
Irrespective of the type of diabetes, the symptoms are much the same and are related to the high levels of blood sugars in the body. The individual with diabetes may present with the following symptoms:
- Excessive thirst
- Increased hunger or constantly eating
- Weight loss is especially common with Type 1 diabetes
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Sores and wounds that do not heal quickly
Specific symptoms in men
- Inability to have an erection
- Decreased sex drive
- Muscle weakness
- Frequent yeast and urinary tract infections
- Dry and itchy skin
What are the Risk Factors for Diabetes?
- Family history: if someone in your family has either Type 1 or 2 diabetes, you are more likely to develop the condition.
- Being overweight is a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.
- Age: the average age of onset of diabetes is 45 years.
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
- Having been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
- If you have high cholesterol and/or high triglyceride levels, this also increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes
- Diet: if you are eating a diet rich in simple sugars, you place yourself at higher risk for diabetes.
COMPLICATIONS OF DIABETES
If the blood sugar levels are not controlled, sooner or later most people develop devastating complications of diabetes, which, in most cases, cannot be reversed. These complications include the following:
- Injury to the eyes that may lead to vision loss and/or blindness;
- Heart attacks and strokes because the blood vessels become obstructed or narrowed;
- Injury to the kidney eventually leads to complete damage and the need for dialysis;
- Injury to the nerves can lead to numbness, pain, constipation, etc.; and/or
- Damage to the blood vessels of the extremities can lead to poor blood flow, increased risk of infections, and possible amputations of toes or a leg.
The above complications seriously affect the quality of life and can lead to isolation, depression, and anxiety.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be treated. The treatment for Type 1 diabetes is the lifelong use of insulin. Type 2 diabetes can be managed by changes in lifestyle, exercise, changes in diet, use of medications, and taking insulin. All individuals with diabetes need very close follow-up with their healthcare provider and a nutritionist. The levels of blood sugars need to be regularly monitored and screened for eye, heart, and kidney problems. These tests should be undertaken every 6-12 months.
Individuals who manage to control their blood sugars can avoid the complications of diabetes and lead a good quality of life. Today, some tools, including computer or phone apps, allow diabetic individuals to monitor their blood sugar levels at home and send the report to their healthcare provider. Investment in home blood sugar measurement tools is highly recommended as it can help you more closely monitor the disease.
While you cannot prevent Type 1 diabetes, there are several things you can do to lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes and decrease your blood sugar levels. These include:
- Exercise regularly. Walk or cycle at least 100-150 minutes a week.
- Watch your diet. Avoid sugary foods and cola beverages. Remove fast foods and processed foods from your diet. Learn to read labels and buy low-sugar foods.
- Eat a diet high in fruits, whole grains, and vegetables.
- Avoid too much red meat; instead, eat more fish.
- Do not eat more than 2,000 calories per day for males and 1,800 calories/day for females.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
What is the main cause of diabetes? The main cause of diabetes is abnormally high blood sugar levels, which can be brought about by many factors. Diabetes is a lifelong disorder and, therefore, following up with your healthcare provider is needed for the long term.
Cano Health is a leading healthcare provider, specializing in senior care. There is an abundance of information available about diabetes and how you can better live with it. To get any questions answered that you may have about diabetes, call us at 786.212.1167. The more you know of the facts about diabetes, the better you will be able to manage it.