Diabetes | Endocrinology | Loyola Medicine


Overview and Facts about Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when blood sugar levels (also known as blood glucose levels) are too high (hyperglycemia). Blood glucose, which comes from the food people eat, is the body’s main source of energy.

Insulin, a hormone made by beta cells of the pancreas, helps transport glucose to the millions of cells in the body to be used for energy. When the body doesn’t make enough (or any) insulin or doesn’t use insulin well, glucose stays in the blood and doesn’t reach the body’s cells.

Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious health complications.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin; it’s the most common form of diabetes in people under age 30.

In type 2 diabetes (adult-onset diabetes) the pancreas makes insulin, but it either doesn’t produce enough, or the insulin doesn’t work properly (insulin resistance). This is the most common type of diabetes and occurs most often in people over the age of 40.  

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes share many similar symptoms, including:

  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Itchy/dry skin
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
  • Unexplained weight loss (even when eating more due to increased appetite)
  • Yeast infections​

While both types share similar symptoms, they present differently; symptoms of type 1 tend to develop quickly and are more severe, while symptoms of type 2 develop slowly and are initially mild.

Causes and Risk Factors of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. While researchers have not yet pinpointed the exact cause, it’s believed that genes and environmental factors play a role.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by genes and lifestyle factors. Risk factors for developing this type include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Having prediabetes
  • Lacking exercise or physical activity

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are often genetic (inherited from family members), and occur most often in the following ethnic/racial groups:

  • African Americans
  • Alaska Natives
  • American Indians
  • Asian Americans
  • Hispanics/Latinos
  • Native Hawaiians
  • Pacific Islanders

Tests and Diagnosis of Diabetes

A specialist in endocrinology, known as an endocrinologist, can use three types of tests to make a diagnosis of diabetes:

  • A1C test: measures average levels of blood glucose over the past two to three months
  • Fasting plasma glucose test (FPG): measures a person’s blood sugar level after fasting or not eating for at least eight hours
  • Random plasma glucose (RPG) test: used to test blood when symptoms of diabetes are present even if a patient hasn’t fasted

Treatment and Care of Diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes need to frequently monitor their blood sugar levels and require lifelong insulin therapy. Eating a healthy, balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate counts as well as getting regular physical activity can help you stay healthy.

Type 2 diabetes is frequently treated with lifestyle and diet changes, such as eating a healthy diet, losing weight and exercising regularly. While many people with type 2 diabetes can maintain healthy blood sugar levels with diet and exercise alone, many also need diabetes medications or insulin therapy.