What is Diabetes, and What are the Different Types?

Diabetes is a widespread medical disorder that affects 8.4 percent of the American population, or close to 27 million people. In addition, there are an additional 77 million Americans who have been diagnosed with prediabetes, many of whom will become full-blown diabetics if they do not change their lifestyle.  Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are the main types.

The fundamental problem in diabetes is that the body either does not produce enough insulin or that the insulin produced does not work, often referred to as insulin resistance. When this happens, the body cannot utilize the sugars in the blood, and, consequently, the levels remain high. If the blood sugars are allowed to remain high for a prolonged period of time, they can irreversibly damage many organs in the body, including the eyes, kidney, heart, brain, and blood vessels in the legs.  What are the different types of diabetes?

Types of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes, and they include:

  • Type 1- second most common
  • Type 2- the most common
  • Gestational- the least common

What is the Cause of Diabetes?

Type 1 Diabetes

The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes remains unknown despite exhaustive research. However, more evidence seems to indicate that it is an autoimmune disorder. For some unknown reason, this means that the body’s immune system recognizes the pancreas (the organ that produces insulin) as foreign and destroys it.

Once the pancreas is damaged, it is no longer able to make insulin. Why the immune system suddenly starts to attack the pancreas is not known; it is believed, however, to be associated with a recent viral infection. A number of viruses have been implicated which bind to the pancreas and alter its surface. The immune system then recognizes the pancreas as foreign and destroys it.

Unfortunately, not all Type 1 diabetics have a history of a viral infection, and the specific virus that causes this change in the pancreas remains a mystery. The injury to the pancreas is permanent, and for the rest of their life, the patient will require insulin to be added to the body.

Type 2 Diabetes

For individuals who have Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas continues to make insulin, but the problem is that there is resistance to the hormone. For example, insulin lowers blood sugar by driving it into the liver. Still, for some unknown reason, the liver develops resistance to it and can no longer intake glucose. 

This results in elevated levels of blood sugar in the systemic circulation. It is believed that high-fat levels induce a state of inflammation, which is the cause of insulin resistance. At this point, the pancreas will increase insulin production in response to the high levels of glucose, but eventually, the pancreas will wear out. At this point, the patient will have full-blown diabetes.

Factors That Contribute Towards Type 2 Diabetes

  1. Genes: Genetics can play a role in the cause of Type 2 diabetes. When one or both parents have diabetes, the risk of their children developing diabetes is increased. However, not all siblings may have the same risk, and some may not have any risk.
  2. Inactivity: Individuals who are inactive or lead a sedentary lifestyle are at very high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. The reason is that the lack of physical inactivity lowers the effectiveness of insulin in reducing blood sugars. 
  3. Obesity: Today, obesity is probably the number one risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes—obesity results in insulin resistance and prolonged elevations in blood sugars. The good news is that obesity is a reversible disorder, and with weight loss, diabetes can resolve itself.
  4. Medications: The use of certain medications can also lead to diabetes. Drugs like corticosteroids, antipsychotics, birth control pills, and drugs to treat high blood pressure can all cause elevated blood sugar.

Gestational Diabetes

Anywhere from 2-20 percent of women will develop diabetes during pregnancy. The higher the number of risk factors, the greater the risk of gestational diabetes. Doctors usually test for gestational diabetes in the second and third trimesters. The reason gestational diabetes develops is that the hormones released by the placenta interfere with the actions of insulin. 

Gestational diabetes is more likely to occur in pregnant women who have gained a lot of weight. More importantly, women who develop diabetes during pregnancy are also more likely to have large babies (in excess of 9 pounds), increasing the risks of complications during delivery. In most women, after giving birth, diabetes will disappear. However, some women will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes in the future if they continue to remain obese.

Symptoms of Diabetes

Irrespective of the type of diabetes, both conditions can have some of the same general symptoms, which include the following:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness and tiredness
  • Wounds that are slow to heal

Specific Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

  • Dark velvety patches in the armpits or skin folds, known as acanthosis nigricans.
  • Tingling and painful sensations in the hands and feet.
  • The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes tend to present after the fourth or fifth decade of life.

Specific Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

  • Loss of weight.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a serious condition due to a lack of insulin. It presents with ketones in the urine, marked dehydration, and altered mental status. It is a medical emergency.
  • The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes usually present much earlier in life, such as early childhood or the teenage years.

Potential Complications of Diabetes

Diabetes is not a benign disorder, and if the blood sugars are not well controlled, the majority of individuals will develop a wide range of complications that include the following:

  • Poor vision or loss of vision due to retinopathy
  • Premature heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Numerous skin infections
  • Malfunction of the kidneys leading to complete failure (nephropathy)
  • Nerve damage leading to neuropathy
  • Poor blood supply to the legs
  • Amputation of the toes, leg

Recent studies show that Type 2 diabetes is also a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Complications in Pregnancy

If the blood sugars remain elevated during pregnancy, it can lead to:

  • Preeclampsia
  • High blood pressure
  • Large infant (macrosomia)
  • Miscarriage


Irrespective of what type of diabetes you have, you need to follow the condition closely with a healthcare provider. There is no cure for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and the disorder requires lifelong management. It is vital to monitor your blood sugars at home and at regular intervals in a diabetic clinic. The more effort you put into controlling your blood sugar, the lower the risk of complications. 

At the same time, change your lifestyle and become physically active. Eat a healthy diet, discontinue smoking (if you’re a smoker), and monitor your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. If you are prescribed medications or insulin to manage your diabetes, be compliant with them. 

Finally, consult with a diabetic professional and a dietitian to help set up a menu plan and assist you with finding support services.  Cano Health is just such a healthcare service provider, specializing in care for seniors.  It is the personalized care and approach to wellness that sets Cano Health services apart from all others.  Call 1.855.975.5119 today to learn more.


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