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Understanding the Causes of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

How Do You Get Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic illness in which blood glucose and blood sugar levels are too high. Glucose is obtained from food and is the main source of energy for your body. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps glucose get into your cells. With this condition, the body does not use insulin effectively, does not make enough of it, or does not make it at all. This leads to glucose not reaching the cells and these cells not having the energy to function properly.

This is the most common chronic condition that occurs worldwide. It affects anyone of any gender, race or ethnicity, and age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global population of people with diabetes, recorded in 2014, was 422 million. It is the primary cause of heart attacks, limb amputations, strokes, kidney failure, and blindness worldwide.

What Types of Diabetes Are There?

There are several types, and each one has its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1, the body does not make insulin. This type is an autoimmune disorder because the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produces insulin. It is unknown why this happens or how to prevent it. This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed in young adults or children. It affects up to 10% of people.

Type 2 Diabetes

This is the most common type. In type 2, the body either does not effectively produce insulin or the cells do not react to insulin. This results in a build-up of sugar in the blood. This type most frequently occurs in adults. However, this is also becoming more frequent in children.

Gestational Diabetes

This occurs in some pregnant women, where the blood sugar levels are elevated to the point that the body cannot produce enough insulin. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born but increases the mothers’ chance of having type 2 diabetes later on.

How Exactly Do You Get Diabetes?

Type 1

The cause of this type is unknown. For some reason, the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. There could be a genetic factor at play or a viral infection that might trigger the immune system attack.

Children and teenagers are more likely to develop type 1. Carrying the genes for it or having a family history increases your chances of developing type 1 diabetes.

Type 2

Type 2 can occur due to lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity, poor dieting (eating a lot of sugary or fatty foods), excessive weight, and obesity. Having high amounts of visceral fat in your belly also increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. This excess belly weight results in your cells being more resistant to the effects of insulin. Type 2 can run in families, with a higher likelihood of developing diabetes if your parents or sibling have had it.

People over the age of 45 have a higher chance of developing it, along with people who were prediabetic or had gestational diabetes. People with high cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood) are also more likely to be affected. This type also occurs most commonly in Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians, Latino Americans, or Asian Americans.


This is a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy and usually does not last past pregnancy. It’s caused by the production of hormones from the placenta that reduces sensitivity to the effects of insulin.

Women who are also over the age of 25, have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and have a family history of type 2 diabetes are more likely to be affected.

Symptoms of Diabetes

The most common symptoms across the different types are:

  • Increased thirst and hunger
  • Frequent urinating (especially at night)
  • Weight loss or muscle atrophy
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Sores or infections that do not heal properly or not at all

In men, it can lead to erectile dysfunction, poor muscle strength, and decreased sex drive. In women, symptoms can be frequent yeast or urinary tract infections.

Symptoms of type 1 can develop over weeks or days and can additionally result in mood changes. However, type 2 can present even years after they developed diabetes. Many people do not notice the onset of type 2 diabetes. Most pregnant women with the gestational type do not notice symptoms and are mostly unaware.

How is Diabetes Diagnosed?

Blood tests are used to measure both main types of this condition. The fasting plasma glucose (FPG) is used to measure blood sugar in a person after an eight-hour fast. The hemoglobin A1C test is used to calculate the average blood glucose level over the past two or three months.

Gestational diabetes is usually discovered during the pregnancy screening test in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. It is diagnosed through a glucose challenge or oral glucose tolerance test.

How to Prevent and Treat Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is unpreventable. A person with type 1 diabetes has to be administered insulin every day to stay alive. However, lowering blood glucose by reducing your daily consumption of high sugary and fatty foods is a must.

The genetic cause of type 2 diabetes is also not preventable. However, other risk factors are preventable. The key is to maintain a healthy balanced diet and physical activity or exercise. This involves:

  • Lowering blood glucose by reducing any high amounts of daily consumption of fatty or sugary foods. These should be replaced with more fruits and vegetables.
  • Controlling your cholesterol levels. Trans fats and saturated fats should be cut from your diet and replaced by healthy fats such as olive oil. Regular cholesterol level screening should be done.
  • Reducing your intake of saturated fats and processed carbohydrates, and opting for healthier options like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Cutting down on smoking also reduces the risk of developing diabetes-related complications. People who are obese or overweight can lose at least 7% of their body weight to help reduce their chances of developing diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is treatable with oral medications such as alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. However, some people with type 2 diabetes might also take insulin. Maintaining proper foot hygiene, wearing appropriate footwear, blood pressure control, and ulcer care can help prevent complications such as infections.

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