What is diabetes?

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. In individuals with diabetes, insulin is either produced in insufficient quantities, or the body becomes immune to its effects. In both cases, the result is a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream that can have potentially life-threatening consequences.

It is important to note that while elevated blood sugar levels are the primary symptom of diabetes, people with the condition can also suffer serious consequences when blood sugar levels are too low.



The symptoms experienced at any given time depend on the amount by which sugar levels are elevated or suppressed. Symptoms can occur gradually, or they can appear suddenly, with serious consequences. Symptoms include the following:

  • Extreme hunger or thirst
  • Unintentional weight loss that cannot be attributed to other causes
  • Irritability and fatigue
  • Frequent infections in the mouth or skin, and slow-healing sores
  • A frequent need to urinate that may or may not be accompanied by increased fluid intake
  • Elevated ketone levels (a component of urine that is present when there is not enough insulin)\


Type of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes. The immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for the production of insulin. This leaves the individual with little or no insulin, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream instead of being absorbed into the cells.

Type 2 diabetes. Insulin is produced, but the body becomes immune to its effects. The pancreas is unable to make enough to compensate, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream.

Gestational diabetes. In pregnant women, the placenta produces hormones to sustain the pregnancy. This results in the body becoming resistant to insulin. In most women, the pancreas is able to compensate by producing more insulin. For some women, the pancreas is not able to keep up. Gestational diabetes resolves itself when the pregnancy is over.


What are the risk factors?

Factors that point to an increased risk of developing diabetes include the following:

  • The presence of diabetes in a family member
  • Lifestyle factors such as nutrition and exercise
  • Medical conditions that affect the functioning of the immune system
  • Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and teenagers, and type 2 diabetes is more common in people over the age of forty.
  • Women who previously had gestational diabetes, or who gave birth to large babies, are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Women who are overweight prior to pregnancy are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.

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