Diabetes 101: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

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Most of the food that we eat turns into sugar, or glucose, which the body uses for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies.

Diabetes develops when the body does not make enough insulin or is unable to utilize insulin properly (known as insulin resistance). If the body does not use or make insulin well, glucose can build up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the body’s cells. The body’s cells are then starved of energy, in spite of high blood glucose levels.

Diabetes can result in serious health complications, including stroke, heart disease, gum disease, kidney failure, and damage to the arteries of the legs (that may lead to loss of a limb).

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that needs to be managed carefully to stay healthy.

How Many Diabetics Are There?

According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are approximately 463 million adults living with diabetes in the world – this number is expected to rise to 700 million by 2045. Further statistics show that about 232 million people with diabetes remain undiagnosed.

Diabetes: Types, Causes, and Symptoms

There are three major types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the body loses its ability to make insulin. It used to be known as juvenile diabetes as it was thought to only affect children; however, it can develop at any age. Unfortunately, there is no known cure yet for type 1 diabetes. Treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels with a healthy diet and lifestyle, as well as taking insulin and other medications as necessary.


The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is currently unknown. However, some known risks factors and causes include genetics, a family history, age, and exposure to environmental factors and certain viruses.


Type 1 diabetes symptoms may appear suddenly and may include:

  • Increased Thirst
  • Extreme Hunger
  • Unexplained Weight Loss
  • Fatigue and Weakness
  • Frequent Urination
  • Irritability and Other Mood Changes

Type 2 Diabetes

By far, type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It accounts for up to 95% of all cases. People with type 2 diabetes suffer from insulin resistance – this means that their body doesn’t respond to insulin properly. While they do make insulin early in the disease, eventually, people with type 2 diabetes stop making insulin. Typically, it occurs more frequently in adults, but children can be affected as well.


Type 2 diabetes develops when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or when the body becomes resistant to insulin. The exact causes behind this unknown; however, genetics, family history, and other environmental factors, such as being inactive and overweight, seem to be contributing factors to the disease.


The symptoms of type 2 diabetes usually develop gradually. In fact, some people may have type 2 diabetes without being aware of it! Look for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased Thirst
  • Increased Hunger
  • Blurred Vision
  • Unexplained Weight Loss
  • Frequent Infections
  • Slow-Healing Sores and Wounds
  • Areas of Darkened Skin (usually in the neck and armpits)

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy and typically disappears after giving birth. It occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin to meet the body’s extra needs during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can develop at any stage of pregnancy but is more common during the second or third trimester. Gestational diabetes can cause problems for both the mother-to-be and the baby during pregnancy and after birth. However, risks can be mitigated if the condition is detected early and managed properly.


During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that can result in the buildup of glucose in your blood. Typically, the pancreas should make enough insulin to handle that buildup. If not, your blood sugar levels will rise, resulting in the development of gestational diabetes. Any woman can experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy; however, some factors like a family history of diabetes, a body mass index (BMI) of 30, or a history of gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, can increase your risk of developing it.


Usually, gestational diabetes does not cause any symptoms. In fact, some cases are only discovered when a pregnant woman’s blood sugar levels are tested while screening for gestational diabetes. However, some women may develop symptoms if their blood sugar levels are too high. Symptoms may include:

  • Increased Thirst
  • Dry Mouth
  • Fatigue and Weakness
  • Frequent Urination

Aside from these three major types of diabetes, there is also a rising concern over pre-diabetes. Individuals with pre-diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, as well as stroke and heart disease. The good news is that there are certain steps you can take to delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.

Diabetes Prevention: Tips to Keep in Mind

Here are 5 tips to help reduce your risk of developing diabetes:

  1. Lose Excess Body Weight
    Research reveals that being overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes. One study shows that for every kilogram of weight loss, it can reduce diabetes risk by 16%. So, make sure to lose that excess body weight!
  2. Exercise
    Physical inactivity can significantly raise your risk of developing diabetes. So, make sure to exercise daily! Even simple activities like walking, gardening, and jogging can make a difference.
  3. Eat a Healthy Diet
    Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet with lots of fruits, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and nuts can help reduce your risk of diabetes. On the other hand, you should avoid carb-heavy foods, saturated and trans fat, sugary drinks, salty foods, and alcohol.
  4. Avoid Sugar-Sweetened Drinks
    Studies show that sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity and diabetes. Limit your intake (or cut them out of your diet completely) to reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
  5. Manage Stress
    In today’s fast-paced world, some stress cannot be avoided. However, did you know that people who experience anxiety, depression, or stress have an increased risk of developing diabetes? To manage stress, practice mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, or do activities that you enjoy.

Worried That You Have Diabetes?

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If you are worried about your health, see a doctor as soon as possible.

If you already have diabetes, managing your condition is highly important. Moreover, you should also consult your healthcare team about your condition – you may have to consult several health professionals including your primary care doctor, an endocrinologist, a dietitian, a podiatrist, and a pharmacist – as managing diabetes is a team effort.

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