What is Diabetes?

The Benaroya Diabetes Center in Seattle provides treatment for type 1 and 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to produce or use insulin properly. When this occurs, glucose remains in the bloodstream rather than being absorbed by cells and used for energy. Glucose levels in the blood can then rise dangerously high (hyperglycemia) and, over time, cause damage to major organs and systems in the body such as the kidneys and eyes, and nerves and blood vessels.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is referred to as an immune mediated or auto (self) immune disease. It is also called juvenile diabetes because it affects mainly children and adolescents. However, adults can also develop it. Individuals with type 1 diabetes must take injections of insulin every day to stay alive.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the islet cells in the pancreas are damaged and no longer produce insulin. This happens when the immune system in the body, for reasons that are not clearly understood, attacks its own cells. It affects approximately 5-10 percent of people with diabetes. A rare form called Idiopathic type 1 diabetes also exists and has no known cause.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is referred to as adult onset diabetes. It occurs when the production of insulin is not sufficient to overcome a difficulty the body has in properly using insulin. This difficulty is called insulin resistance. It is a hereditary disorder.

Type 2 diabetes is treated with diet, exercise and, if necessary, medications. It accounts for 90-95 percent of all cases of diabetes and the incidence is rising rapidly, even in children.

Other Causes of Diabetes

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in about 2-5 percent of women during pregnancy — or about 135,000 women annually — usually after the 20th week. The condition is caused from pregnancy hormones that lead to insulin resistance. In some women, whose insulin production is not sufficient to overcome the resistance, glucose levels rise.

The condition poses risks to the developing fetus as the mother’s blood, with its high levels of glucose and insulin, circulates throughout its system. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes can be overweight — over nine pounds — because the mother’s high blood glucose and insulin levels causes them to gain weight. The extra weight can put the baby at risk for obesity and for developing diabetes later in life. In addition, because the baby’s body has become accustomed to extra blood glucose and insulin, its blood sugar can drop too low after birth.

In the majority of cases, gestational diabetes disappears when the woman’s pregnancy ends. But as many as 40 percent of these women will eventually develop type 2 diabetes. In some cases, the pregnancy unveils underlying diabetes that the woman was not aware of.

Diabetes caused from other factors

Diabetes may also occur from other factors such as injury to or disease of the pancreas, medications (such as steroids), surgery, infections and malnutrition. These cases account for 1-2 percent of all cases of diabetes.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a diabetes specialist, call (206) 583-6455.