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Defining Diabetes

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Defining Diabetes

In honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re going over the common types of diabetes—the causes, the symptoms, and the treatments.




In honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re going over the common types of diabetes—the causes, the symptoms, and the treatments.

What is Diabetes?

A condition that occurs when the body can’t use glucose (sugar) normally. The pancreas is a digestive organ that makes insulin, which helps glucose get into the cells of our bodies to produce energy. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should and causes hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Hyperglycemia can damage blood vessels overtime and may cause complications like heart attack, stroke, damage to the eye and loss of vision, kidney disease or failure, nerve problems in the skin (especially the feet) leading to sores, infections, and wound healing problems.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. It’s often referred to as juvenile diabetes because it typically occurs in children and adolescents. The most common symptoms include: increased thirst, extreme hunger, frequent urination, unintended weight loss, mood changes, fatigue, blurred vision. The cause of type 1 diabetes is still unknown, but in most people with this condition, the body's immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses — mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Anyone who has type 1 diabetes needs lifelong insulin therapy to keep their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible to delay or prevent complications. In addition to taking insulin, managing type 1 diabetes usually includes carbohydrate, fat and protein counting, frequent blood sugar monitoring, following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when cells don’t respond normally to insulin, causing the pancreas to overproduce insulin and leading to high blood sugar. The most common symptoms include frequent urination, extreme thirst, unintended weight loss, blurred vision, numbness/tingling in hands or feet, fatigue, and very dry skin. Like type 1 diabetes, the cause for type 2 diabetes is unknown. However, genetics and environmental factors, such as being overweight and inactive, seem to be contributing factors.
Other risk factors include:

  • Family history: Your risk of type 2 diabetes is higher if your parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
  • Age: Your risk increases as you get older, especially after age 45. But, type 2 diabetes is also becoming more and more common among children and adolescents due to childhood obesity.
  • Areas of darkened skin: Dark patches of skin around the neck and armpits often indicates insulin resistance.
  • Prediabetes: This is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health complications, like heart and blood vessel disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, vision loss, and sleep apnea (disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while person is asleep). Managing your condition – by losing weight, eating healthily, monitoring blood sugar, staying active, and possibly using medications – can help prevent complications.

What is prediabetes?

As mentioned in the breakdown of type 2 diabetes risk factors, prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed with diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 90% of people with prediabetes don’t know they have it because many of them don’t experience any symptoms until they develop complications (like type 2 diabetes). Like type 2 diabetes, risk factors for prediabetes include being overweight, being inactive, being 45 years or older, having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes, and having high cholesterol.
If you have prediabetes and are overweight, getting regular physical activity (at least 150 minutes of exercise a week) and losing a small amount of weight (around 5% to 7% of your body weight) can lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
The CDC also offers a lifestyle change program through their National Diabetes Prevention Program
to help you make those changes—and make them stick. Our partner, EmblemHealth, was the first U.S. health insurer to earn full recognition as part of the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program and has tools and resources to help you manage your health.
If you’re looking for additional information about diabetes, talk to your ACPNY physician and schedule an appointment here.