Diabetes: Types, Signs, and Symptoms

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Diabetes: Types, Signs, and Symptoms

Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your blood glucose (sugar) is too high. Blood glucose is your body’s main source of energy, and it comes from the food that you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps move glucose from food into your cells to be used for energy. If you don’t have enough insulin available or if your body can’t use insulin very well, blood glucose levels become too high.

Over time, high blood glucose levels can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, eye problems and blindness, kidney disease, and nerve damage. Right now, there is no cure for diabetes, but there are effective ways to manage it and live a healthy life.

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Types of diabetes

There are actually many types of diabetes, but the most common are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Here’s a closer look:

Type 1 diabetes

About 5% to 10% of people with diabetes have type 1. This is an autoimmune condition that destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin. It can affect people of all ages, races, and genders. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to survive.

Type 2 diabetes

About 90% to 95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. With this type, the body doesn’t make enough insulin and/or use insulin that well, which leads to high blood sugars. This type can also affect people of all ages but is more common in middle age and older people. Type 2 is treated with a combination of lifestyle and medication, which may include insulin.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. It usually goes away after the baby is born, but both the mother and baby have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life.

Signs, symptoms, and diagnosis

The signs and symptoms of diabetes depend on how high the blood sugar is. These are the most common symptoms of diabetes:

  • ·Being very thirsty
  • Being hungry
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy, dry skin
  • Having to urinate a lot, often at night
  • Feeling constantly tired
  • Feeling grumpy or irritable
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts or sores that take a long time to heal
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent infections, such as yeast infections or urinary tract infections
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands and feet

Type 1 diabetes tends to come on quickly, and other symptoms can include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and fruity or sweet-smelling breath. These symptoms can indicate diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is a serious and possibly fatal condition. The presence of DKA is sometimes the first indication of type 1 diabetes in a person who has not yet been diagnosed. Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test for blood glucose and/or hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c); other tests may be done, too, including checking for autoantibodies in the blood and ketones (produced when the body burns fat for energy) in the urine.

Type 2 diabetes can take a long time to develop, which explains why some people with type 2 don’t have any symptoms. This type of diabetes is often diagnosed at a routine doctor’s visit after a blood test that checks for glucose and/or hemoglobin A1C.

Gestational diabetes usually doesn’t cause symptoms. Pregnant women should be tested for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. A glucose challenge test or an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is used to diagnose gestational diabetes.

Want to learn more diabetes basics? Read “Welcome to Diabetes” for type 2, “Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers” for type 1, and “Gestational Diabetes: Are You at Risk?” for gestational diabetes.

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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