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This article outlines the causes, prevention, treatment and outlook for three different types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.

The body really does need sugar, in the form of glucose —  cells use it to make energy and it is the most readily available energy source. Diabetes is a metabolic disease that is characterized by high sugar levels in the blood. Diabetes is a term that actually encapsulates three different diseases, which include type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, diabetes during pregnancy.

The characteristic that is common across all subtypes of diabetes is that cells are not able to obtain sugar from the blood, causing them to essentially starve. At the same time, the sugar in your blood is unable to be metabolized and therefore hangs around, which can cause significant complications.

Let's take a look at the causes, treatment and outlook of the three different types of diabetes, as well as looking at preventative steps where they are possible. 

Type 1 diabetes

Cause

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. This means that your immune system, which is supposed to protect you from foreign pathogens, goes haywire and starts to attack your own body instead. In the case of type 1 diabetes, the immune cells attack cells of the pancreas that are responsible for making insulin (the hormone that actually helps metabolize glucose). Therefore, the pancreas no longer makes adequate levels of insulin, leading to high blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, the damage caused by autoimmunity is permanent and it is not known what actually causes your body to have this autoimmune reaction. Researchers theorize that both genetic and environmental factors likely have a role in the development of this disease.

Prevention and treatment

Currently, there is no known way to prevent the development of type 1 diabetes. Treatment includes taking insulin for life as the damage to the pancreas is permanent and cannot be reversed. Depending on your condition, you can be prescribed one of the many different types of insulin that are available on the market today. You can have injectable insulin or an insulin pump that is programed to release a specific dose. You will need to constantly monitor your blood glucose levels and may need to take other drugs to help control other diabetes-associated complications.

Outlook

While there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, you can live a long and healthy life by carefully managing and monitoring your condition.

Type 2 diabetes

Cause

Unlike type 1 diabetes, patients with type 2 diabetes initially produce insulin. However, the cells of your body become resistant to the effects of insulin and therefore, don’t use insulin properly. This causes the pancreas to produce even more insulin in an effort to induce glucose metabolism. However, eventually the pancreas wears out and insulin production decreases. At this point, patients develop high blood sugar levels. While the exact cause of type 2 diabetes has not yet been discovered, studies suggest that a combination of genetics, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity or being overweight leads to its development. Some studies also suggest that there are health or environmental factors that can stimulate development of type 2 diabetes.

Prevention and treatment

There are ways to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes through a number of different methods including controlling your weight, managing your diet, exercising regularly, not smoking and keeping your cholesterol in check. Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes a healthy diet and exercise, but this kind of diabetes can also be managed using medication such as metformin, which helps your body use insulin in a more effective manner. Again, you will need to constantly monitor your blood sugar levels and control your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Outlook

As long as you adhere to a diet and exercise plan and work closely with your doctor, you should be able to properly manage your condition.

Gestational diabetes

Cause

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy because some women will produce insulin-blocking hormones, which inhibit the activities of insulin and lead to an increase in blood sugar levels.

Prevention and treatment

Similar to treatment of type 2 diabetes, women with gestational diabetes can help keep their blood sugar levels low by eating better and exercising more. A treatment regimen will include checking your blood sugar levels at home using a blood glucose monitor and seeing your doctor at regular intervals. In some cases, you may need to give yourself injections of insulin as a way to combat your high blood sugar levels. Other types of medications may also be used.

Outlook

Gestational diabetes is largely resolved after you have the baby, though there is a higher chance that you will go on to develop type 2 diabetes at a later point in life. If you follow the advice for preventing type 2 diabetes, then you should be able to either prevent or delay it. There are some complications in pregnancy that can occur, which include high blood pressure, preeclampsia, miscarriage and birth defects.

  • Bellamy, Leanne, et al. "Type 2 diabetes mellitus after gestational diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis." The Lancet 373.9677 (2009): 1773-1779.
  • Karvonen, M., et al. "A review of the recent epidemiological data on the worldwide incidence of type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus." Diabetologia 36.10 (1993): 883-892.
  • Kim, Catherine, Katherine M. Newton, and Robert H. Knopp. "Gestational diabetes and the incidence of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review." Diabetes care 25.10 (2002): 1862-1868.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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