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