Authored by Revere Health

Diabetes Mellitus: What is it?

April 5, 2017 | Internal Medicine

Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a group of chronic, lifelong diseases that affects the body’s ability to process insulin—a hormone that converts glucose into energy to fuel your body.

Although there is no known cure for diabetes, there are several methods to help people manage their condition and live relatively healthy lives. Here’s what you need to know about diabetes.


Types of Diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: This form of diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune condition that damages the pancreas—the organ responsible for producing insulin. Factors like genetics, exposure to certain viruses and faulty beta cells in the pancreas can influence the development of Type 1, and it often develops at a young age. Type 1 diabetes can lead to several medical risks, including problems with the kidneys, eyes, nerves and heart. Treating Type 1 involves the injection of insulin to supplement what the body is unable to create.
  • Type 2: Making up 95 percent of adult cases and around 26 million total cases in the United States, Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Although it is more common in adults, increased obesity in adolescents is leading to earlier onsets of Type 2 diabetes. The pancreas of a person with Type 2 can usually still produce some insulin, but it either can’t produce enough or the insulin it does produce is rejected by the body. Obese people are at a particularly high risk for Type 2 diabetes, but it can be controlled and prevented with healthy lifestyle habits.
  • Gestational Diabetes: Brought on by pregnancy, gestational diabetes develops in somewhere between 2 and 10 percent of all pregnancies. It’s important to treat gestational diabetes promptly because it can affect the health of both the mother and the baby during pregnancy.


Causes and Risk Factors

Different types of diabetes are caused by different factors:

  • Type 1: The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown, but doctors do know that the immune system’s attack on the pancreas causes the inability to create insulin, and therefore the buildup of sugar in the bloodstream. Evidence shows that Type 1 is influenced by genetic and environmental factors, but which of those factors are not clear.
  • Type 2: Genetics and the environment may also play a role in Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, being overweight has been proven a strong link to the development of Type 2 diabetes—not everyone with Type 2, however, is overweight.
  • Gestational diabetes: Natural hormone changes during pregnancy can make the cells in the body more resistant to insulin.

There are numerous risk factors that contribute to diabetes, including family history, weight, diet, age and other medical conditions.


Symptoms and Complications

Symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Strong thirst or hunger
  • Tiredness and irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sores that don’t heal well, or frequent infections


Not everyone shows symptoms initially, but if you notice these these symptoms in yourself or your child, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Complications can be life-threatening in some cases, and they include:

  • Nerve damage
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis)
  • Kidney damage (nephropathy)
  • Foot damage
  • Eye damage
  • Problems with hearing
  • Alzheimer’s disease (typically associated with Type 2 diabetes)
  • Skin conditions
  • Several pregnancy complications



Treatment for diabetes varies between cases, but a good diet plan and regular exercise are very valuable for both management and prevention. Other treatments include:

  • Blood sugar monitoring: People with diabetes often have to monitor their blood sugar levels, which can help identify other changes that may need to be made.
  • Insulin treatment: All Type 1 patients need insulin, and many Type 2 patients or gestational diabetes patients do as well. There are many different types, depending on the individual case.
  • Medications: Other medications—whether taken orally or injected—can be prescribed, including medicines for the pancreas, liver or stomach enzymes.
  • Transplantation: In some cases of Type 1 diabetes, a transplant of the pancreas might be necessary, though there are risks and potential complications.
  • Bariatric surgery: People who are very overweight (body mass index over 35) can sometimes benefit from this surgery.

For pregnant women with gestational diabetes, treatment involves maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, which affects both the mother and baby.

If you are experiencing symptoms of diabetes or find it difficult to manage your symptoms, speak with your doctor. He or she will be able to help you develop a treatment plan that works best for you.


For patients in Utah County, our internists provide a wide variety of care for diseases, disease prevention and other illnesses for adolescents and adults. We offer immunizations, health management counseling for chronic conditions such as diabetes, physicals and screenings for hypertension, osteoporosis and sleep disorders.



“Types of Diabetes Mellitus.” WebMD.

“Diabetes.” The Mayo Clinic.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.