Diabetes, known scientifically as diabetes mellitus, is a medical condition in which the body cannot efficiently break down sugar in the bloodstream.
The result is a chronically high level of blood sugar in the bloodstream. In addition, diabetes often causes increased hunger, increased thirst, fatigue, vision problems and frequent urination. The long-term effects of diabetes can include cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, retinal damage and, eventually, death.
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Under normal circumstances, the body is able to regulate the level of sugar in the bloodstream.
In healthy individuals, a hormone called insulin is released from the pancreas into the bloodstream to help about two-thirds of the body’s cells absorb a simple sugar called glucose. The body’s cells use glucose for fuel, for energy storage and for other needs.
If glucose levels in the bloodstream jump too high (as they typically do after eating), the body will release additional insulin to help break down those sugars.
On the other hand, if glucose levels dip too low, the body will reduce the amount of insulin being released and in turn spur the release of stored glucose back into the bloodstream. The body does this by increasing the levels of other hormones, most notably glucagon, which has the reverse effect of insulin.
Diabetes covers an array of conditions in which blood sugar levels remain too high either because the body’s cells have stopped responding to insulin or the body does not produce enough insulin.
Speaking broadly, there are three main types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is the condition in which the body does not produce insulin and as a result can’t use blood sugar for energy. A person with Type 1 diabetes needs to inject insulin into their body in order to regulate blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes is the condition where the body stops responding to insulin. This is often the result of lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol. Age, ethnicity and genetics can also play a part in developing Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form. About 90 to 95 percent of all diabetics suffer from Type 2.
The third type, gestational diabetes, appears in pregnant women. About 2 to 5 percent of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes but it often improves or disappears when the pregnancy ends. It can often be controlled through diet, exercise and, if necessary, insulin shots.
- Diabetes Public Health Resource via CDC.gov
- Type 2 Diabetes Overview via WebMD.com
- Diabetes and Pregnancy via CDC.gov