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Diabetes Health Center

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Types of Diabetes Mellitus

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Diabetes mellitus (or diabetes) is a chronic, lifelong condition that affects your body's ability to use the energy found in food. There are three major types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

All types of diabetes mellitus have something in common. Normally, your body breaks down the sugars and carbohydrates you eat into a special sugar called glucose. Glucose fuels the cells in your body. But the cells need insulin, a hormone, in your bloodstream in order to take in the glucose and use it for energy. With diabetes mellitus, either your body doesn't make enough insulin, it can't use the insulin it does produce, or a combination of both.

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Since the cells can't take in the glucose, it builds up in your blood. High levels of blood glucose can damage the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys, heart, eyes, or nervous system. That's why diabetes -- especially if left untreated -- can eventually cause heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and nerve damage to nerves in the feet.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is also called insulin-dependent diabetes. It used to be called juvenile-onset diabetes, because it often begins in childhood.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. It's caused by the body attacking its own pancreas with antibodies. In people with type 1 diabetes, the damaged pancreas doesn't make insulin.

This type of diabetes may be caused by a genetic predisposition. It could also be the result of faulty beta cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin.

A number of medical risks are associated with type 1 diabetes. Many of them stem from damage to the tiny blood vessels in your eyes (called diabetic retinopathy), nerves (diabetic neuropathy), and kidneys (diabetic nephropathy). Even more serious is the increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes involves taking insulin, which needs to be injected through the skin into the fatty tissue below. The methods of injecting insulin include:

  • Syringes
  • Insulin pens that use pre-filled cartridges and a fine needle
  • Jet injectors that use high pressure air to send a spray of insulin through the skin
  • Insulin pumps that dispense insulin through flexible tubing to a catheter under the skin of the abdomen
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