What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition that affects the body’s ability to use blood sugar for energy. The three types are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce insulin. Doctors usually diagnose in childhood, although it can occur in adults also. The hormone insulin is vital to helping the body utilize blood sugar. Without enough insulin, the extra blood sugar can damage the body. According to the American Diabetes Association, 1.25 million U.S. children and adults have type 1 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes affects the body’s ability to use insulin properly. Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes make insulin. However, either they don’t make enough to keep up with rising blood sugar levels or their body isn’t able to use the insulin effectively. Doctors associate type 2 diabetes with lifestyle-related factors like obesity.
- Gestational diabetes is a condition that causes women to have very high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This condition is typically temporary.
Having risk factors does not mean that someone will get diabetes.
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of type 1 diabetes.
Family history of type 1 diabetes is considered a risk factor. According to the American Diabetes Association:
- If a man has type 1 diabetes, his child has a 1 in 17 chance of developing type 1 diabetes.
- If a woman has type 1 diabetes:
- her child has a 1 in 25 chance of developing type 1 diabetes — if the child is born when the woman is younger than 25.
- her child has a 1 in 100 chance of developing type 1 diabetes — if the child is born when the woman is 25 or older.
- If both parents have type 1 diabetes, their child has between a 1 in 10 and 1 in 4 chance of developing type 1 diabetes.
Having a parent with type 2 diabetes also increases diabetes risk. Because diabetes is often related to lifestyle choices, parents may pass on poor health habits to their children in addition to a genetic predisposition. This increases their children’s risk for getting types 2 diabetes.
People of certain ethnicities are also at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. These include:
- Native Americans
- Pacific Islanders
- Hispanic Americans
Women have an increased risk for gestational diabetes if they have a close family member who has diabetes.
Having a virus (type unknown) at an early age may trigger type 1 diabetes in some individuals.
People are also more likely to have type 1 diabetes if they live in a cold climate. Doctors also diagnose people with type 1 diabetes in the winter more often than the summer.
Several studies suggest that air pollution might also put you at an increased risk of developing diabetes.
For type 1 diabetes, it’s unclear if there are any lifestyle related risk factors.
Type 2 diabetes is often lifestyle-related. Lifestyle factors that increase risk include:
- physical inactivity
- unhealthy diet
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, obesity is the single greatest risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
People are also more likely to experience type 2 diabetes if they have the following conditions:
- acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition that makes the skin appear darker than usual
- hypertension (high blood pressure) greater than 130/80 mm Hg
- high cholesterol
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- prediabetes or blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not at diabetes levels
- triglyceride levels that are 250 or greater
Women with gestational diabetes who give birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more are at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
People are more likely to get diabetes as they age. According to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 25 percent of United States citizens age 65 and older have diabetes.
A common misconception about diabetes is that vaccines cause diabetes. According to the National Centre for Immunisation Reseach & Surveillance, there is no evidence to support this claim.