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Overview of Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which sufficient amounts of insulin are either not produced, or the body is unable to use the insulin that is produced. Diabetes can be defined as a metabolic disorder, because the disease affects the way the body metabolizes, or uses, digested food to make glucose, the main source of fuel for the body. Diabetes may be the result of conditions such as genetic syndromes, chemicals, medications, malnutrition, infections, viruses, or other illnesses. The three main types of diabetes include:

  • Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin, resulting in either no insulin or a low amount of insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily in order to live.

  • Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a result of the body's inability to make enough, or to properly use, insulin. Type 2 diabetes may be controlled with diet, exercise, and weight loss, or may require oral or injected  medication and/or insulin injections.

  • Gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a condition in which the glucose level is elevated and other diabetic symptoms appear during pregnancy in a woman who has not previously been diagnosed with diabetes. In many cases, all diabetic symptoms disappear following delivery.

What is prediabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is commonly preceded by prediabetes. In prediabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be defined as diabetes. However, many people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, states the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Prediabetes also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people with prediabetes can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

How does diabetes affect blood glucose?

For glucose to be able to move into the cells of the body, the hormone insulin must be present. Insulin is produced in the pancreas, and, normally, is readily available to move glucose into the cells. However, in people who have diabetes, either the pancreas produces too little or no insulin, or certain cells in the body do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This causes a build up of glucose in the blood, which passes into the urine where it is eventually eliminated, leaving the body without its main source of fuel.

What is maturity-onset diabetes in the young (MODY)?

Although often misdiagnosed as type 1 or type 2 diabetes, maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is a group of diseases characterized by inherited early-onset diabetes (usually in adolescence or early adulthood), and a single gene mutation. 

Severity of the diabetes symptoms associated with MODY vary depending on the type of MODY diagnosed. MODY 2 appears to be the mildest form of the disease, often only causing mild hyperglycemia and impaired glucose tolerance. MODY 1 and 3 may require treatment with insulin, much like type 1 diabetes. MODY accounts for about 1 percent to 5 percent of all cases of diabetes in the U.S. Family members of people with MODY are at greatly increased risk for the condition.

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