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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that is characterized by high blood glucose levels. Under normal conditions, the body uses sugar (glucose) to produce energy that is required to perform essential and daily functions.

Sugar is mainly obtained from a variety of food sources such as bread, fruits, starchy vegetables, and milk. To convert sugar into energy, it is the responsibility of a hormone known as insulin that acts as a key by helping sugar particles pass from the blood into the cell. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, a gland that is located underneath the liver and behind the stomach. When the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, produces it in smaller amounts (not enough for the body’s needs), or the body is not responding well to the insulin’s action (a phenomenon known as insulin resistance), this leads to diabetes.

As a result, the sugar cannot be used by the body and remains in the blood in high levels which is known as “hyperglycemia”.

Type 1 diabetes

This type is more common in children but can occur at any age; it is not caused by weight gain or eating large amounts of sugar. In this case, the insulin is completely deficient because the pancreas is not able to produce it.

It is believed that the immune cells, particularly lymphocytes, attack the pancreas and destroy all cells that are responsible of secreting insulin. Consequently, the sugar accumulates in the blood and cannot reach cells to produce energy; this leads to high blood sugar levels and the appearance of diabetes symptoms.  

Type 1 diabetes is mainly caused by genetic and immunologic factors that CANNOT be prevented. It accounts for 10% only of all diabetes cases.

Type 2 diabetes

This type is more common in adults after the age of 40 years but, unfortunately, this has started to develop recently in children due to unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity.

It is strongly influenced by weight, whether you are overweight or obese, and physical inactivity. The pancreas in this type of diabetes is still able to produce insulin, but the amount is not enough for the body’s needs, or the body cells are not able to use it (insulin resistance) or both scenarios may result in impaired glucose regulation.

The main cause of type 2 diabetes in not fully understood, but there are some risk factors that may lead to it such as overweight and lack of physical activity. Also, aging, family history, smoking, and some medications, such as corticosteroids, may lead to type 2 diabetes. There are specific risk factors in women such as previous history of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or polycystic ovarian syndrome. This type occurs in 90% of all diabetes cases.

Gestational Diabetes

Usually occurs in women during the second trimester of pregnancy due to the hormonal changes and insulin resistance; it usually disappears after childbirth. However, it remains a risk factor that may lead to type 2 diabetes in the future.

MODY

Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) is not as common as the previously discussed types. It is caused due to an error in one gene that the affected person inherited from one or both parents. MODY is classified into many subtypes that can be managed by lifestyle interventions, sugar (glucose) lowering medications, or insulin injections. Because it can be transmitted to some of the offspring, medical investigation of children of affected parents is recommended to detect children who may carry this gene.