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What is Diabetes? The Types and Causes

Are you the 1 in 10 living with diabetes or the 1 in 3 living with prediabetes? With odds like these, it is very possible that a diabetes diagnosis is right around the corner. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. During this month, communities across the country bring awareness to diabetes. We're doing our part to keep you in the know each week this month. In this blog post, we'll cover what is diabetes, the different types, and the causes.

But before we dive in, here's a little reminder. Try your best to — at a minimum — incorporate at least 30 mins of physical activity into your daily routine, find ways to move while seated, and/or break up sitting times often throughout the day.

Now on to our regularly scheduled programming.

What is Diabetes? 

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose — more commonly known as blood sugar — is too high. If you have ever had a blood test before, you may have noticed results for something labeled A1C. A1C is a glycated hemoglobin test that tells doctors the average amount of sugar in your bloodstream for the past two to three months.

Here's the A1C breakdown:

  1. An A1C range below 5.7% indicates normal
  2. 5.7% - 6.4% indicates prediabetes
  3. 6.5% or higher on two separate tests indicates diabetes

This is the most common test used to determine a diabetes diagnosis, but there are certain conditions that can make an A1C test inaccurate and doctors may resort to other testing measures.

Blood Glucose

Blood glucose is your body's main source of energy which comes from the food you eat. The hormone insulin helps glucose from the food enter your cells to be used for energy or stored for later use.

A person with diabetes has a problem with insulin — your body either doesn't make enough insulin, can't use the insulin well, or both. Insulin is vital for keeping your blood glucose at normal levels.

To further understand diabetes... let's discuss the different types.

Types of Diabetes

The scary part about diabetes is that many people have it and don't know. According to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report, 34.2 million Americans have diabetes. That's 1 in 10 people! Imagine how many people you see/interact with within a day. It's shocking to know — according to statistics — that some of those people are living with diabetes. Even more alarming is that approximately 1 in 3 people have prediabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes 

Your immune system mistakenly treats the cells in your pancreas that make insulin as foreign invaders and destroys them. This process can happen in a matter of weeks or years.

When enough cells are destroyed, your pancreas stops making insulin or makes very little insulin that you need to take prescribed insulin to live.

Type 1 diabetes is most common in young people but can be diagnosed as an adult.


This means that you have a higher-than-normal blood glucose level but is not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. Without a lifestyle change, people with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes 

This is the most common type of diabetes. Even though you can develop type 2 diabetes as a child, it occurs most often in middle-aged and older people. Your body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use insulin well (insulin resistance) which causes too much glucose to remain in your blood and not enough reaches your cells for energy.

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease — if you don't manage it, it will get worse over time which could lead to life-threatening health complications.

Gestational Diabetes

This form of diabetes is diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. High blood sugar during pregnancy can affect you and your baby's health, but expectant mothers can help control it by eating healthy, exercising, and taking medication if necessary.

For most women, blood sugar levels will return to normal after giving birth. And if you've had gestational diabetes, you will need to be tested regularly since you are at much higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. 

— American Diabetes Association, Blood Sugar and Insulin at Work

There are less common types including monogenic diabetes which is inherited and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

What are the Causes? 

Type 1 Diabetes 

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors. Weight is not believed to be a factor in type 1 diabetes.

Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes 

Being overweight or obese is linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. It's worth noting that not everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight. Like type 1 diabetes, the exact cause is unknown but genetic and environmental factors play a role in its development.

Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that make your cells more resistant to insulin but are necessary to sustain the pregnancy. Usually, your pancreas produces enough extra insulin to overcome this resistance but sometimes can't keep up.

 Learn More about Diabetes

Diabetes is a tricky disease mainly because the specific cause is unknown, it's not curable, and people can unknowingly have prediabetes or diabetes with no symptoms until it further progresses. This is not the end though. Committing to a healthier lifestyle by making healthy choices makes managing diabetes easier. To learn more about diabetes and to take a risk test be sure to visit the American Diabetes Association website.

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