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Diabetes Information

About Diabetes
What causes Diabetes
Do you have Diabetes?
Are you at risk for Diabetes?
Screening for Diabetes
Complications of Diabetes
Treating Diabetes

Causes of Diabetes

      There are many different types of sugar molecules, but one extremely important type of sugar molecule is glucose. Glucose is the primary source of the body's energy. Glucose is one of the many types of sugar molecules broken down by the body during the digestion of carbohydrates from a variety of foods, such as vegetables, fruit, milk products, bread and rice. Once broken down from the digestion of carbohydrates, glucose is absorbed directly into the bloodstream after eating. However, glucose is unable to enter the body's cells without the assistance of insulin. The body creates insulin and secretes it from the pancreas.
The pancreas is located behind the stomach. When the body detects that blood glucose levels have risen, cells in the pancreas (beta cells) trigger the release of insulin from the pancreas. The insulin then triggers cells to allow glucose to enter, resulting in a lowering of the glucose levels in the bloodstream. This process prevents blood glucose levels from reaching high and dangerous levels. The blood sugar level and trigger of insulin secretion work together. As blood sugar levels fall, a corresponding decrease in insulin secretion occurs.
This process is further aided by the liver. The liver stores any excess glucose in the form of glycogen which is converted by the liver into glucose and released into the bloodstream when insulin levels in the blood are low.
This complex relationship between insulin, the liver, glucose and several other hormones acts to keep blood sugar levels in the body within healthy limits. In a healthy body where the pancreas is functioning normally, the amount of glucose in the bloodstream changes in response to variables such as exercise, stress and foods eaten. This is an important balance within the body, and when this balance is not working properly, serious illness such as diabetes can result.
When this complex relationship is off, increased levels of blood sugar result. This is usually caused by the pancreas not producing a sufficient amount of insulin to enable glucose to pass into cells, or the cells themselves develop resistance to insulin. The precise cause of elevated blood sugar depends on the type of diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

1) Type 1 Diabetes (previously called juvenile diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes)

Type 1 Diabetes results when the pancreas makes very little or no insulin. This is due to the body's own immune system attacking your pancreas and destroying 'beta cells', which are the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Unlike a healthy body where the immune system fights viruses, bacteria and other invading organisms, the immune system in Type 1 Diabetes patients attacks the pancreas. Possible explanations for why the pancreas acts this way include genetic factors, exposure to viruses and diets high in fat. Researchers continue to study this area. This form of diabetes often goes undetected for years, even decades. Symptoms, when detected, usually appear within a matter of weeks or a few months and are more likely to appear after illness.

2) Type 2 diabetes (previously called adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin dependent diabetes)

Type 2 Diabetes results when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin to allow glucose to enter the body's cells, or when cells develop a resistance to insulin. Unlike Type 1, Type 2 Diabetes is not an autoimmune disease. Researchers continue to study why this develops, but suggestions have been presented that excess weight is the number one factor.

3) Maturity-Onset Diabetes of Youth (MODY)

This type of diabetes is a form of Type 2 Diabetes, is inherited and very rare, affecting a very small percentage of people, usually teenagers.

4) Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes generally develops in the second or third trimester in pregnant women. It develops when hormones produced by the placenta interfere with and negatively affect the role of insulin in the body. Although gestational diabetes disappears after childbirth, over 50% of those who have suffered go on to develop Type 2 Diabetes later in life. Approximately 2-5% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. Although rare, Type 1 Diabetes can develop during pregnancy as well, heightening blood sugar levels to the point that insulin therapy is required.

5) Illness & Medications

Diabetes can also result from illnesses and certain medications that negatively impact the normal action of insulin. Only 1-2% of confirmed diabetes illness occurs in this manner. Some procedures associated with the development of diabetes due to these causes include:

- surgical removal or inflammation of the pancreas
- disorders affecting the adrenal gland
- malnutrition
- certain types of infection and
- use of corticosteroid drugs

Read more from the National Institute of Diabetes. For Americans living with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association offers useful information, resources and support.

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