Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the way the body turns food into energy. Instead of entering cells to serve as fuel for the body and brain, sugar remains in the blood. Over time these higher-than-normal levels of sugar in the blood can cause damage to many different organs including the eyes, kidneys and nerves, and increase the risk of infections, heart attacks and strokes.

There are many types of diabetes, but the three most common types of diabetes include type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas produces little to no insulin. Insulin directs various organs to take in blood sugar and either convert it to energy or store it for later use. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and is a disorder of insulin resistance, which is when the cells fail to respond normally to insulin. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women who did not have diabetes prior to their pregnancy.

It is important to be aware of the risk factors for developing diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, and take the necessary precautions to avoid getting diabetes, if possible.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, 13.4% of Black men and 12.7% of Black women have been diagnosed with diabetes. Combined, their rate is 60% higher than that of white people. In the U.S., Black people are twice as likely as their white counterparts to die of diabetes and are three-times more likely to end up hospitalized for diabetes-related complications according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Risk Factors

Type 1 risk factors (risk factors are not as clear for type 1, but the following risk factors are known):

  • Family history: if you have an immediate family member with type 1 diabetes
  • Age: Can develop at any age but usually develops in young adults, teens and children

Type 2 risk factors:

  • Overweight
  • Poor diet: sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, red and processed meat
  • Have prediabetes
  • 45 years old or older
  • Have a direct relative with type 2 diabetes
  • Physically active less than three times a week
  • Certain medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, HIV, long-term steroid use
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Have had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Identify as a Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or Asian American person. Asian Americans are at risk for type 2 diabetes at a lower body mass index (BMI) than other populations

Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors:

  • Had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Overweight
  • Older than 25 years of age
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Identify as a Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or Asian American person

What does it mean to be Prediabetic?

Prediabetes is a serious condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If you are prediabetic, it means that your body’s cells have started to become less responsive to insulin than normal resulting in the overproduction of insulin to achieve the appropriate response from your body’s cells.

Prediabetes risk factors are the same as those listed above for type 2 diabetes.

The following steps can help decrease the risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes or even reverse prediabetes:

  • Improve the quality of your diet, emphasize vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats like those in nuts, seeds and olive oil, poultry and fish over highly processed grains and red meat
  • Cut out sugary drinks. Choose water, coffee or tea instead (without tons of added sugar or creamer).
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking
  • Moderate your alcohol intake if you drink alcohol: up to one drink a day for women, up to two drinks a day for men

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

People with prediabetes generally do not have any symptoms which is why it is important to ask your health care provider about diabetes screening if you have any of the risk factors listed above. Occasionally some people may have a velvety, darkening of the skin around the neck, armpits and groin which is associated with insulin resistance.

The classic signs and symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, increased frequency of urination, increased hunger, unintentional weight loss, blurry vision and more fatigue than normal. If you notice any of these, it is very important to be evaluated by your health care provider in a timely manner.

Impact of Diabetes

In Kentucky, there are an estimated 600,000 residents diagnosed with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, every year an estimated 31,090 people in Kentucky are diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes is expensive and increases medical expenses by 2.3% in comparison to those who do not have diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is more likely to affect minority populations such as African Americans, Hispanic/Latino, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. It is important to take necessary steps to prevent, assess and manage diabetes, as there are many other health issues that can arise from it.

To discuss your potential risk factors, talk with your primary care provider. If you need a primary care provider, call our primary care hotline at 502-588-4343 or visit UofLHealth.org. With more than 30 primary care offices across Louisville and surrounding areas, we can help find a location that best works for you.

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Article by: Rebecca Jeun, M.D.

Rebecca Jeun, M.D. has been practicing as a general endocrinologist since 2021 with UofL Physicians – Endocrinology with experience managing a wide variety of endocrinologic disorders with a special interest in diabetes. Dr. Jeun earned her medical degree at Baylor College of Medicine in 2016. She completed internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2019 and returned to Baylor College of Medicine to complete a fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism in 2021. She is an assistant professor of medicine with the University of Louisville Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes.

All posts by Rebecca Jeun, M.D.
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