Diabetes basically boils down to a problem with blood sugar regulation. Blood sugar is regulated by insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes (sometimes called juvenile diabetes because it tends to occur in childhood or adolescence) occurs because the body no longer produces insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the body cells become less responsive to insulin (insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in middle to late adulthood. The third type of diabetes, gestational diabetes, occurs only during pregnancy.
A family history of diabetes is the most common risk factor for all three types. Viral infections are thought to trigger type 1 diabetes in susceptible individuals, and dietary factors like low vitamin D or the early feeding of cow's milk may also be related. The risk of type 2 diabetes rises with age, and the condition has been linked to overweight and inactivity. Certain groups -- blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans -- have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is more likely in women who are overweight or older than 25 during the pregnancy.
Poor blood sugar control affects all the body cells and organs. Complications can arise with high blood sugar levels; high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney failure are well-known complications of diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy affects the nerves, especially in the extremities, and causes numbness that can lead to ulcers and pressure sores. Diabetic retinopathy is a visual impairment that can progress to blindness.
Each type of diabetes is treated with dietary modifications. Insulin treatment is required for type 1 diabetes since the body has stopped producing insulin. Weight management is critical for type 2 diabetes, and mild type 2 diabetes can sometimes be corrected by weight loss and exercise. Oral medications that help stabilize the blood sugar are also used in type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes may be treated with insulin if it is severe.
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