Type 1 diabetes is partly inherited, with multiple genes, including certain HLA genotypes, known to influence the risk of diabetes. In genetically susceptible people, the onset of diabetes can be triggered by one or more environmental factors, such as a viral infection or diet. Several viruses have been implicated, but to date there is no stringent evidence to support this hypothesis in humans. Among dietary factors, data suggest that gliadin (a protein present in gluten) may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes, but the mechanism is not fully understood.
Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness and visual disability. Diabetes mellitus is associated with damage to the small blood vessels in the retina, resulting in loss of vision. Findings, consistent from study to study, make it possible to suggest that, after 15 years of diabetes, approximately 2% of people become blind, while about 10% develop severe visual handicap. Loss of vision due to certain types of glaucoma and cataract may also be more common in people with diabetes than in those without the disease.
Other studies have focused, not on sugar overall but specifically on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Many have found no significant relationship, apart from sugar’s extra calories that lead to weight gain. For example, the Women’s Health Study,8 the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study,9 the Black Women’s Health Study,10 and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis found no significant associations between sugar consumption and diabetes risk after adjustment for measures of body weight. Some studies have had mixed results, exonerating sucrose, but indicting glucose and fructose.12,13 And some studies have shown associations between sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes that persist after adjustment for body weight.14,15
In the sunshine, molecules in the skin are converted to vitamin D. But people stay indoors more these days, which could lead to vitamin D deficiency. Research shows that if mice are deprived of vitamin D, they are more likely to become diabetic. In people, observational studies have also found a correlation between D deficiency and type 1. "If you don't have enough D, then [your immune system] doesn't function like it should," says Chantal Mathieu, MD, PhD, a professor of experimental medicine and endocrinology at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. "Vitamin D is not the cause of type 1 diabetes. [But] if you already have a risk, you don't want to have vitamin D deficiency on board because that's going to be one of the little pushes that pushes you in the wrong direction."
The term brittle diabetes has been used to refer to people who have dramatic recurrent swings in blood glucose levels, often for no apparent reason. However, this term is no longer used. People with type 1 diabetes may have more frequent swings in blood glucose levels because insulin production is completely absent. Infection, delayed movement of food through the stomach, and other hormonal disorders may also contribute to blood glucose swings. In all people who have difficulty controlling blood glucose, doctors look for other disorders that might be causing the problem and also give people additional education on how to monitor diabetes and take their drugs.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
A second theory, dubbed the hygiene hypothesis, blames the rise of type 1 on a society that's too clean. Good housekeeping and hygiene habits mean far fewer interactions with germs, which in turn may foster an immune system prone to going awry. "In a developing country, you have more infectious disease. This is associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes," says Li Wen, MD, PhD, an immunologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. In her lab, rodents raised in hyper-clean environments are more likely to get type 1 than those reared in dirtier cages.
In Type II diabetes, the pancreas may produce enough insulin, however, cells have become resistant to the insulin produced and it may not work as effectively. Symptoms of Type II diabetes can begin so gradually that a person may not know that he or she has it. Early signs are lethargy, extreme thirst, and frequent urination. Other symptoms may include sudden weight loss, slow wound healing, urinary tract infections, gum disease, or blurred vision. It is not unusual for Type II diabetes to be detected while a patient is seeing a doctor about another health concern that is actually being caused by the yet undiagnosed diabetes.
Another form of diabetes called gestational diabetes can develop during pregnancy and generally resolves after the baby is delivered. This diabetic condition develops during the second or third trimester of pregnancy in about 2% of pregnancies. In 2004, incidence of gestational diabetes were reported to have increased 35% in 10 years. Children of women with gestational diabetes are more likely to be born prematurely, have hypoglycemia, or have severe jaundice at birth. The condition usually is treated by diet, however, insulin injections may be required. These women who have diabetes during pregnancy are at higher risk for developing Type II diabetes within 5-10 years.
The prognosis for a person with this health condition is estimated to be a life expectancy of 10 years less than a person without diabetes. However, good blood sugar control and taking steps to prevent complications is shortening this gap and people with the condition are living longer than ever before. It can be reversed with diligent attention to changing lifestyle behaviors.
Aspirin should be used as secondary prophylaxis in all diabetic people with evidence of macrovascular disease, and it should be strongly considered as primary prevention in diabetic subjects with other risk factors for macrovascular disease, such as hypertension, cigarette smoking, dyslipidemia, obesity, and albuminuria (macro or micro).228 Because of the platelet defects associated with diabetes, it is recommended that the dose of aspirin should be 300 mg per day,228–230 although the American Diabetes Association’s position statement (http://www.diabetes.org/DiabetesCare/supplement198/s45.htm) advocates a dose of 81 to 325 mg enteric-coated aspirin per day. If the patient cannot tolerate aspirin, then clopidogrel231 can be used.
Older people may have a difficult time adding exercise to their daily life, particularly if they have not been active or if they have a disorder that limits their movement, such as arthritis. However, they may be able to add exercise to their usual routine. For example, they can walk instead of drive or climb the stairs instead of take the elevator. Also, many community organizations offer exercise programs designed for older people.
Patients who suffer from diabetes have a lifelong struggle to attain and maintain blood glucose levels as close to the normal range as possible. With appropriate blood sugar control, the risk of both microvascular (small blood vessel) and neuropathic (nerve) complications is decreased markedly. Additionally, if hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) are treated promptly and aggressively, the risk of cardiovascular complications should decrease as well.
Managing your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and quitting smoking if you smoke, are important ways to manage your type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes that include planning healthy meals, limiting calories if you are overweight, and being physically active are also part of managing your diabetes. So is taking any prescribed medicines. Work with your health care team to create a diabetes care plan that works for you.
According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors may use other tests to diagnose diabetes. For example, they may conduct a fasting blood glucose test, which is a blood glucose test done after a night of fasting. While a fasting blood sugar level of less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is normal, one that is between 100 to 125 mg/dL signals prediabetes, and a reading that reaches 126 mg/dL on two separate occasions means you have diabetes.