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November 1, 2023

Diabetes Unveiled: Types, Causes, and Risk Factors with Debra Guzman, ARNP, FNP-C

by Debra Guzman, ARNP, FNP-C

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Despite its prevalence, many aspects of diabetes remain misunderstood. In this comprehensive guide, we will unveil the various types of diabetes, explore their causes, and identify the risk factors associated with this condition.

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is primarily categorized into three main types: Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Each type has distinct characteristics and requires different management strategies.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body cannot produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin therapy.

Causes of Type 1 Diabetes:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Viral infections
  • Environmental factors
  • Autoimmune response

Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or early adulthood, and its exact cause remains the subject of ongoing research.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for the majority of cases. In Type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, and the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to compensate for this resistance. This leads to elevated blood sugar levels.

Causes of Type 2 Diabetes:

  • Genetic factors
  • Obesity and excess body weight
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor dietary habits
  • Age (more common in adults, but increasingly diagnosed in children and adolescents)

Type 2 diabetes is often linked to lifestyle factors, making it highly preventable through healthy living, diet, and exercise choices.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet increased hormonal demands. This condition usually resolves after childbirth. However, women with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Causes of Gestational Diabetes:

  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy
  • Insulin resistance
  • Genetic factors

Proper management of gestational diabetes is essential to protect both the health of the mother and the developing fetus.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

Understanding the risk factors associated with diabetes is crucial for prevention and early detection. Various factors can increase your susceptibility to this condition.

Family History

A family history of diabetes can significantly elevate your risk, particularly for Type 2 diabetes. If a parent or sibling has diabetes, your chances of developing the condition increase.


Excess body weight, especially in the abdominal area, is a primary risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Fat cells, particularly in the abdomen, can release chemicals that disrupt the body’s regulation of insulin.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Physical inactivity and a lack of regular exercise can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Poor Dietary Choices

Diets high in refined sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods can promote obesity and insulin resistance. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is recommended for diabetes prevention.


Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, especially those over the age of 45. However, the growing prevalence of obesity has led to an increase in diabetes diagnoses in younger age groups.

Gestational Diabetes

Women who have had gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It can lead to insulin resistance and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. The two conditions often coexist and share similar risk factors.

High Cholesterol

Elevated levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol can contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Ethnic Background

Certain ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, have a higher predisposition to diabetes.

Preventing and Managing Diabetes

While some risk factors, such as family history and genetics, cannot be modified, several lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing diabetes. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight through diet and exercise
  • Staying physically active with regular exercise
  • Consuming a balanced diet rich in fiber, whole grains, lean proteins, and low in processed sugars and saturated fats
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels if you have a family history of diabetes or other risk factors
  • Managing stress through relaxation techniques and stress-reduction strategies

For individuals already living with diabetes, proper management is essential. This typically involves regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, medication or insulin therapy as prescribed, a healthy diet, and an active lifestyle.

Diabetes is a complex condition with various types, causes, and risk factors. While some risk factors are beyond our control, others can be addressed through healthy lifestyle choices. Understanding your risk and taking proactive measures to prevent diabetes is crucial for maintaining your long-term health.

If you have concerns about your risk of diabetes or experience symptoms like increased thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, or fatigue, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance. Many of our Avance Care primary care providers have special interest and experience in diabetes care and management. Avance Care Nutrition even offers a specific Thriving with Diabetes nutrition course, so you can learn how to use food to best support your body’s specific needs.

With the right information and lifestyle choices, you can reduce your risk of diabetes and enjoy your best life.

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