The number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, but estimates suggest that there are many more people who are still undiagnosed with the disease. The more people know about the danger of diabetes, its causes and symptoms, the sooner they can be diagnosed, and countermeasures can be done.
In the following paragraphs, we will introduce you to the causes and signs of the metabolic disease and explain which examinations are necessary for the diagnosis and how the treatment is carried out.
What is diabetes anyway?
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disorder of sugar metabolism. This is where the colloquial term “diabetes” comes from.
There are different forms of diabetes, which have different causes and symptoms and require different treatments. The most common forms are type 1 and type 2 diabetes, with type 2 diabetes accounting for about 90 to 95 percent of cases. The hormone insulin plays a vital role in both diseases.
How insulin affects blood glucose levels?
Sugar belongs to the carbohydrates and is an essential supplier of energy. We consume sugar not only through sweet foods but mainly in the form of starch, for example, in cereals or potatoes. In the course of digestion, our body breaks down carbohydrates and glucose is produced. This increases the blood sugar level, i.e., the amount of sugar in the blood.
In order for this sugar to pass from the blood into the body cells, where the energy is needed, the body’s own hormone insulin is needed. When the blood sugar concentration rises, insulin is released from certain cells of the pancreas (the so-called Langerhans cells) into the blood, which then helps to transport the sugar into the cells and thus lower the blood sugar level.
However, if the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin, or if the cells no longer respond correctly to the insulin, the glucose no longer passes from the blood into the cells. While the organs “starve” because no sugar can get in, the sugar concentration in the blood is very high.
Some of the excess sugar is excreted with the urine. This causes the urine to take on a sweet taste – which was actually used in the past to diagnose diabetes.
Possible causes and types of diabetes
Diabetes can have many different causes:
- In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (beta cells) are usually destroyed in childhood or adolescence by an immune process (i.e., an autoimmune disease) – because of this early-onset, and it is also called juvenile diabetes. In this form of diabetes, there is a so-called absolute insulin deficiency.
- Type 2 diabetes is usually a consequence of overweight, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. This form gradually develops from developing insulin resistance and is trivialized as adult-onset diabetes. However, this should not hide the fact that younger adults can also develop this form of diabetes.
- The unofficial term type 3 diabetes covers a diverse group of different and rare forms of diabetes. The causes are:
- genetic defects of the beta cells, which hinder the release of insulin
- genetic defects of insulin action
- diseases of the pancreas
- hormonal disorders
- medicines or chemicals
- Infections (such as cytomegaly)
- unusual forms of immune-mediated diabetes
- other genetic causes
- Gestational (gestational diabetes) is diabetes that – as its name suggests – is first diagnosed during pregnancy, regardless of whether the disease was previously undiagnosed. It is usually type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) is a special type of type 1 diabetes that has a delayed onset and occurs only in adults. It is often mistaken for type 2 diabetes in the early stages and only gradually develops the typical characteristics of type 1 diabetes.
But, what causes type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In many cases, its development is influenced by one’s lifestyle: the trigger is often combined with an unhealthy diet, too little exercise, and overweight.
Being overweight means that the organs need more and more insulin until they let the blood sugar into the cells. This is known as insulin resistance, an important precursor of diabetes. At the same time, the years of overproduction of insulin, which the increased need brings with it, leads to a kind of “exhaustion” of the insulin-producing cells. This means that insulin is still produced, but not enough. Experts, therefore, speak of a relative insulin deficiency.
Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, and elevated blood lipid levels. However, genetic predisposition, advanced age, or certain medications (e.g., cortisone) can also play a role in the development of the disease.
Common symptoms and signs of diabetes
Early detection of diabetes is important in order to start appropriate treatment and avoid secondary diseases. But how do you recognize diabetes?
Possible signs or symptoms of diabetes are
- excessive thirst
- increased urge to urinate and the excretion of large quantities of urine – especially at night
- a tendency to infections, for example, urinary tract infections
- ravenous appetite
- Tiredness, exhaustion, and loss of performance
- poorly healing wounds
- dry and itchy skin
- heavy legs
- excessive or reduced sweating
Type 2 diabetes usually develops slowly over the years, whereas type 1 diabetes tends to develop within weeks. This form of the disease can also lead to unexplained weight loss and gastrointestinal problems.
Preventing type 2 diabetes – 6 pro tips
Not all forms of diabetes can be prevented. But for the most common form, type 2 diabetes, a health-conscious lifestyle is considered the most important measure to reduce the risk of diabetes.
The following tips are suitable for preventing type 2 diabetes:
- Avoid being overweight and above all declare war on existing belly fat.
- Get moving: Just 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day can help improve your health.
- Eat a healthy diet. Above all, reduce your consumption of fat (especially animal fats), sugar, salt, soft drinks, and alcohol, and instead reach for fiber (for example, in fruit, vegetables, and wholemeal products), fish and omega-3 fatty acids (for example in linseed oil or herring).
- Sleep well and ensure that you are sufficiently relaxed because a lack of sleep and stress can have a negative effect on blood sugar levels.
- Avoid high blood pressure, since in combination with diabetes, it can increase the risk of secondary diseases.
- Refrain from smoking as it has a negative effect on metabolism.
Watch the Youtube video below to learn how to prevent type 2 diabetes by changing lifestyles: