Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the levels of blood sugar (glucose) and insulin are imbalanced. The body requires optimal levels of both glucose and insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, in order to function normally. When this balance is disrupted, tissue and organ damage can occur if the condition is not managed medically.
Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that almost always begins in childhood. In type I diabetes, the pancreas produces very little insulin or none at all, allowing blood glucose levels to rise to dangerous levels. Type II diabetes occurs most commonly in adults who are obese, although recently, more children have been developing type II diabetes as well. In this type, insulin is produced but the body doesn't metabolize it properly. Gestational diabetes is a third type that only develops during pregnancy.
Diabetes has been linked with several risk factors, including having a family history of the disease; being overweight or obese; leading a sedentary lifestyle; having high blood pressure (hypertension), and having high cholesterol. Some research has indicated certain viral illnesses may also increase some individual's risks for developing type I diabetes.
Diabetes has been linked with increased risks for several major medical issues, including: kidney damage and kidney failure, nerve damage, especially in the feet and lower legs, circulation problems, which may result in a need for amputation, cardiovascular disease, vision loss, hearing loss, serious skin infections and slow-to-heal sores, and dementia including Alzheimer's disease.
Some mild forms of type II diabetes may be managed with lifestyle changes like eating a healthier diet, losing weight and being more physically active. Other patients with type I or type II may require the use of insulin to keep glucose levels under control.
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