Diabetes: What It Is, Symptoms, Types, Treatment & How to Prevent It

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According to a report from International Diabetes Federation published in 2021, approximately 537 million adults (20 – 79 years old) are living with diabetes. In other words, one in ten (10.5%) adults around the world are living with diabetes.

Moreover, the average age of onset for type 2 diabetes is decreasing. This suggests that diabetes is now not only a condition affecting older adults but rather a concern pertinent to individuals of all ages.

Today, we will talk about the definition, causes, types, and other relevant information about diabetes. 

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that develops when there is an excessive amount of sugar, also known as glucose, in your blood.

The normal range of blood sugar levels is between 70 and 140 mg/dL, with levels ideally not over 200 mg/dL. Diabetes is diagnosed when an individual’s fasting blood sugar level exceeds 126 mg/dL or when the result of a random glucose test exceeds 200 mg/dL.

Over time, the sugar built up in your bloodstream can cause other serious health problems including vision loss, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.

What Are the Causes of Diabetes? The Relationship Between Diabetes and Insulin

The β cells of pancreas are responsible for producing insulin, which lets the sugar in your bloodstream into cells for utilization and storage. Without the effects of insulin, glucose will not be able to enter cells properly, resulting in a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream.

If the blood sugar levels continue to rise, eventually the individual will have diabetes. There are two main reasons behind this, namely insulin resistance and insulin deficiency.

Insulin Deficiency

Many older adults develop diabetes when their pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin as a result of aging. Some younger individuals have diabetes because their beta cells are destroyed by T cells of the immune system, resulting in inability to produce insulin. These patients need to inject insulin on a daily basis in order to keep their blood sugar levels within the normal range.

Insulin Resistance

Physical inactivity and nutritional imbalance can both lead to insulin resistance, also known as impaired insulin sensitivity. Your body will not respond to insulin as it should; therefore, the glucose in your blood cannot enter the cells.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

In the early stages of diabetes, the symptoms are often mild and may even go unnoticed. Here are some common symptoms after developing diabetes:

    • Increased thirst, appetite accompanied by unexplained weight loss
    • Frequent urination
    • Fatigue
    • Slow-healing cuts
    • Recurrent urinary tract infection

It’s therefore important to have regular health checkups in order to undergo early treatments that can decrease the risk of diabetes-related complications.

Criteria for Diagnosis of Diabetes

There are four criteria for the diagnosis of diabetes.

  1. HbA1c ≥ 6.5%
  2. Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) ≥ 126mg/dL
  3. 2-hour plasma glucose ≥ 126 mg/dL during an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)
  4. A random plasma glucose ≥ 200 mg/dL in a patient with common symptoms of diabetes like increased thirst, appetite, urination, and weight loss

For a diagnosis of diabetes to be made, the first two criteria need to be met in two separate test samples or the last criterion is met once.

Criteria for Diagnosis of Diabetes

Criterion Non-diabetes Diabetes
HbA1c < 5.6% ≥ 6.5%
Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) < 100 mg/dL ≥ 156 mg/dL
2-hour plasma glucose < 140 mg/dL ≥ 200 mg/dL
Random plasma test ≥ 200 mg/dL with common symptoms of diabetes

If the blood sugar levels fall between the normal range and the criteria for diagnosis of diabetes, an individual can be considered pre-diabetic. During this stage, adopting healthier lifestyle changes such as dietary management, regular exercise, and weight control can potentially restore blood sugar levels to normal.

What Are the Different Types of Diabetes?

Diabetes can be categorized into four groups based on different causes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes falls under the category of autoimmune diseases. The immune system acts against the pancreatic β cells, leading to the pancreas’ inability to secrete insulin.

Lifelong insulin injections are necessary for individuals with type 1 diabetes to stabilize their blood sugar levels. While type 1 diabetes can appear at any age, it most commonly occurs in children and teenagers.

Type 2 Diabetes

According to the International Diabetes Federation, over 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Apart from genetics, the primary causes of type 2 diabetes are lifestyle factors like irregular daily routines, unhealthy diets, and being overweight.

Although the average age at diagnosis of diabetes is around 60 years, there’s a growing trend of younger individuals being diagnosed with diabetes in recent years.

Other Types of Diabetes

Other types of diabetes are caused by various factors including mutations in genes, pancreatic diseases, disorders of the endocrine system, or the effects of medications.

If you want to determine your type of diabetes, in addition to the basic methods, you can measure the concentration of “C-Peptide,” a byproduct of insulin secretion. By combining this measurement with the result of glucose stimulation test and kidney function tests, you can first determine whether you have type 1 diabetes. If not, it might be type 2 or another type.

Can Diabetes Be Cured? Understanding the Differences Between Diabetes Types

If you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes, you might wonder: Can diabetes be cured?

Firstly, investigate the underlying causes of your blood sugar imbalance to determine if restoring it to the normal levels is possible. In the case of type 1 diabetes, damage to the pancreas is irreversible, so currently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.

For other types such as gestational diabetes, if you can manage the acute phase of pancreatitis, or the period of hormonal changes during pregnancy, there is still a chance to restore blood sugar back to normal levels.

After knowing the causes of your diabetes, start planning your recovery goals. As everyone has a different definition of “recovery,” it’s important to set goals and follow through to help you achieve your goals.

Common Ways to Treat Diabetes

Depending on the underlying cause of diabetes, individuals with type 1 diabetes typically rely on insulin therapy, while those with type 2 diabetes can choose between oral or insulin therapy, depending on their conditions. For most cases with gestational diabetes, dietary adjustments are enough to help improve their condition.

Diabetes Prevention: Tips to Prevent Type 1 & 2 Diabetes

There are many causes of diabetes, and not every type can be prevented. However, you can decrease the risk of having the following two types of diabetes through lifestyle changes.

How to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

Although the main causes of type 1 diabetes are related to genetic autoimmune factors and are more difficult to prevent, studies suggest that if infants are breastfed for at least 6 months, while also consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D and unsaturated fats, the risk of type 1 diabetes can be reduced.

Diabetes Prevention: Tips to Prevent Type 1 & 2 Diabetes

There are many causes of diabetes, and not every type can be prevented. However, you can decrease the risk of having the following two types of diabetes through lifestyle changes.

How to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

Although the main causes of type 1 diabetes are related to genetic autoimmune factors and are more difficult to prevent, studies suggest that if infants are breastfed for at least 6 months, while also consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D and unsaturated fats, the risk of type 1 diabetes can be reduced.

How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Since the causes of type 2 diabetes are more related to lifestyle choices, it’s possible to prevent and improve the condition by focusing on the following aspects:

Weight Management

Obesity is the primary cause of insulin resistance. Reducing weight by 5 – 7% through dietary adjustments and exercise can help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Balanced Diet

Consuming a balanced variety of foods from the six main nutrient groups ensures the intake of essential nutrients. During the pre-diabetes stage, reducing the proportion of carbohydrates and increasing the intake of protein and vegetables will help maintain daily nutritional needs and control blood sugar levels.

Regular Exercise

It’s recommended to engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week. Physical activity can improve insulin sensitivity and boost your resting metabolic rate. In other word, your body will become more efficient at burning calories and lower your risk of obesity and diabetes.

Limit Refined Carbs Intake

Refined carbs come from a variety of sources including sugary drinks, candy, desserts, etc. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their refined carbs intake to 100 per day. For men, it’s 150 calories per day.

The reason is that refined carbs are broken quickly into simple sugars, causing unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels can lead to serious chronic diseases and damage to the body’s organs.


Hydration is important for overall health. It helps maintain bodily functions and also reduces the consumption of sugary drinks. It’s recommended to calculate daily water intake by multiplying body weight by 30 – 35 cc.

Common Diabetes Health Complications

Poor blood sugar control will increase the chances of having diabetes-related complications, which not only affect the quality of life but also pose life-threatening risks. Below are some common acute and chronic complications of diabetes.

Acute Complications of Diabetes

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome

Chronic Complications of Diabetes

  • Retinopathy
  • Nephropathy
  • Neuropathy
  • Foot complications
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Cerebrovascular complications
  • Peripheral arterial disease

Daily Tips for Managing Diabetes

While being diagnosed with diabetes may initially seem daunting, managing the condition is very achievable. However, inadequate control of blood sugar levels can lead to serious complications that significantly impact quality of life. Here are some daily tips and reminders:

  • Self-monitor blood glucose (SMBG) and keep records.
  • Maintain a  balanced diet to ensure intake of all essential nutrients.
  • Engage in physical activity, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Attend follow-up appointments and adhering to the treatment plan made by your healthcare team
  • Have regular check-ups for complications, including retinal examinations, peripheral vascular, and neurological examinations.

For those without diabetes, examine your lifestyle and make adjustments to stabilize your blood sugar levels. For those recently diagnosed with diabetes, follow the doctor’s medication instructions and adopt healthy lifestyle changes to gradually find ways to live well with diabetes.

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