Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder caused by too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. Glucose comes from the intake of food and is the major source of energy needed to fuel the body’s functions. When excessive glucose builds up in the blood, it overflows into the urine and passes out of the body. As a result, the body is unable to convert glucose into energy even though the blood contains large amounts of glucose.
In a healthy body, the pancreas maintains the balance between food intake and insulin production, and its beta cells are responsible for producing the hormone, insulin. Insulin can stimulate the uptake of glucose from the blood by the body cells, so that the body can gain sufficient energy for daily activities. When a person eats, the pancreas releases the exact amount of insulin needed to turn the glucose into energy. When the body does not produce or properly use insulin, the level of glucose in the blood will be too high.
When this condition is not managed well, it can cause long-term complications in some people such as blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart disease and limb amputation.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body produces no insulin. The immune system attacks the body in a way that beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed and unable to make insulin, causing a severe lack of insulin. No one knows for certain why this happens, but the trigger for damaging the cells is likely caused by a viral or other infection.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body either does not make enough insulin to meet the body’s needs, or the insulin produced does not function properly. This is known as “insulin resistance”. The amount of insulin produced by the pancreas is insufficient to trigger body cells to respond to the glucose in blood. As a result, blood glucose level rises and eventually spills over into the urine.
The following risk factors increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes:
- Increase in age
- Physical inactivity
Rarer causes of diabetes include:
- Certain medications
- Pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
- Any illness or disease that damages the pancreas and affects its ability to produce insulin, such as pancreatitis
What doesn’t cause diabetes?
Eating too much sugar does not cause diabetes. However, it may cause obesity, which can increase the risks of developing the disease, especially type 2 diabetes.
Stress does not cause diabetes but it could be a potential trigger of turning the body against itself (as in type 1 diabetes), and it may worsen the symptoms for people who already have diabetes.
Diabetes is not contagious. Someone with diabetes can’t pass it on to another person.