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The number of people being diagnosed with diabetes is drastically increasing. To know how diabetes affects your heart, kidney, and brain, read the article.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Raveendran S R

Published At August 3, 2019
Reviewed AtJuly 12, 2023

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes or diabetes mellitus is a condition that affects how your body uses blood glucose or blood sugar. Glucose is an important source of energy for the cells in the body, and it is the main source of fuel of the brain. There are many types of diabetes depending on the cause, but all types increase the blood sugar levels. Excess sugar can affect organs in the body and can also result in heart attacks and stroke.

What Is the Role of Glucose in the Body?

Glucose is an important source of energy for the cells. The two major sources of glucose for your body is from the food you eat and your liver. With the help of insulin, this glucose is absorbed from the intestine to the blood and into the cells. Glucose is also stored and made in the liver, which is broken down and released into the blood when you fast or do not eat for in a while.

The normal fasting blood sugar levels are between 70 and 99 mg/dL, and normal blood glucose 2 hours after a meal should be below 140 mg/dL.

What Are the Types of Diabetes?

The types of diabetes are:

  1. Prediabetes - Prediabetes or borderline diabetes is when blood sugar is 100 to 125 mg/dL. Here, the blood glucose is higher than usual, but not so high to diagnose it as diabetes.

  2. Type 1 diabetes or Juvenile diabetes - Here, the body fails to produce insulin. As such patients do not have insulin production, they must take Insulin shots throughout their life.

  3. Type 2 diabetes - Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, and it impairs the way the body uses insulin. Here, the cells in the body do not respond to insulin effectively, even after the body produces it.

  4. Gestational diabetes - Diabetes that affects pregnant woman, as the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, is gestational diabetes.

The other less common types of diabetes are monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

What Are the Causes of Diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes - The exact cause is still not known, but it is believed that the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This results in less or no insulin production. In the absence of insulin, glucose is not transported to the cells and builds up in the blood. This type of diabetes is believed to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors.

  • Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes - As prediabetes increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, the causes are almost the same. Here, your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, which results in sugar build up in the blood. Obesity is believed to be the primary cause of this type of diabetes.

  • Gestational diabetes - The hormones produced by the placenta during pregnancy makes the cells more resistant to insulin. This is usually compensated by pancreas producing more insulin, but if it does not, it results in gestational diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?


The symptoms vary depending on the level of blood sugar. Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes usually do not cause any symptoms early on. Some of the signs and symptoms of diabetes are:

Common Symptoms:

  • Feeling extremely thirsty.

  • Frequent urination.

  • Increased hunger.

  • Unintentional weight loss.

  • Ketones in urine.

  • Tiredness.

  • Irritability.

  • Vision problems.

  • Slow wound healing.

  • Frequent skin and vaginal infections.

Symptoms in Men:

Symptoms in Women:

  • Vaginal yeast infection.

  • Urinary tract infections.

  • Dry and itchy skin.


What Are the Risk Factors for Diabetes?

The risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are:

  • Obesity.

  • Family history.

  • Sedentary lifestyle.

  • Increasing age.

  • Pregnancy.

  • Hypertension.

  • High cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

What Are the Complications of Diabetes?

The complications of diabetes develop if your blood sugar level is left uncontrolled from a long period. These complications can be life-threatening. The complications include:

  • Heart disease - It increases the risk of heart problems like angina, heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis.

  • Neuropathy - Diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels that supply the nerves in the limbs, which results in tingling, numbness, and pain at the tips of the toes or fingers.

  • Nephropathy - The kidney function is affected when excess sugar damages the tiny blood vessel in the kidneys. It can also lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease.

  • Retinopathy - It is when the blood vessels of the retina get damaged, resulting in blurred vision, and blindness. It can also cause cataracts and glaucoma.

  • Foot infections - Poor blood supply and nerve damage results in sores and blisters to form on the toes. If left untreated, it can get infected and cause gangrene, which might require amputation of the affected toe, foot or leg.

  • Skin infections - Diabetes makes the skin susceptible to many fungal and bacterial infections.

  • Hearing problems - Increases the risk of hearing problems.

  • Memory problems - It increases the risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

  • Mental problems - It can result in depression.

What Are the Complications of Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes can affect both the mother and her baby.

The complications in the baby are:

  • Macrosomia - Excess sugar in the mother’s blood can reach the baby through the placenta, which results in the production of excess insulin by the baby's pancreas. This results in the baby growing too big, which requires birth by cesarian.

  • Hypoglycemia - The blood sugar level drops in some babies shortly after birth due to the high production of insulin, which requires prompt treatment.

  • Obesity - Babies are at higher risk of being overweight later in life if the mother had gestational diabetes.

  • Death - Gestational diabetes if left untreated, can result in fetal death.

The complications in the mother are:

  • Preeclampsia - It is a life-threatening condition, which causes high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling in the legs and feet.

  • Risk of gestational diabetes again - It increases the risk of you having gestational diabetes in the next pregnancy.

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

If you are experiencing the symptoms of diabetes, it is best you get the following tests done:

  • Glycated hemoglobin test (HbA1c) test - This indicates the average blood sugar level for the past three months, by measuring the percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin.

  • Random blood sugar test - Here, blood is collected and glucose level is checked at any time. If the random blood sugar level is 200 mg/dL or higher, it indicates diabetes.

  • Fasting blood sugar test - Here, blood is collected and glucose level is checked after fasting overnight. A fasting blood sugar level between 100 and 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes, and if it is 126 mg/dL or higher, it is diabetes.

  • Oral glucose tolerance test - After the fasting blood sugar level is measured, you are supposed to drink a sugary liquid, and the doctor will check the blood sugar levels for the next two hours. Blood sugar level less than 140 mg/dL is normal, and more than 200 mg/dL, indicates diabetes.


What Are the Treatment Options for Diabetes?

The treatment options include:

Insulin - Insulin is used to control blood sugar levels in type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes that is not controlled by medicines. The types of diabetes are:

  • Rapid-acting insulin - starts working in 15 minutes and lasts for 3 to 4 hours.

  • Short-acting insulin - starts working in 30 minutes and lasts for 6 to 8 hours.

  • Intermediate-acting insulin - starts working in 1 to 2 hours and lasts for 12 to 18 hours.

  • Long-acting insulin - starts working some hours after injection and lasts for a day or longer.

Medications - The drugs that lower the blood glucose levels are:

  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors - Acarbose, Miglitol.

  • Biguanides - Metformin.

  • DPP-4 inhibitors - Linagliptin, Saxagliptin.

  • Meglitinides - Nateglinide, Repaglinide.

  • Sulfonylureas - Glipizide, Glimepiride.

  • SGLT2 inhibitors - Canagliflozin, Dapagliflozin.

  • Thiazolidinedione - Rosiglitazone.

How to Prevent Diabetes?

Ways to prevent diabetes are:

  • Consume a diet low in fat and high in fiber.

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.

  • Weight reduction.

  • Avoid eating trans and saturated fat.

  • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Consult a diabetologist online, to know if you are at risk of developing diabetes, and ways to prevent it.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Does Diabetes Feel Like?

Diabetes is a condition associated with excess blood sugar levels. It leads to the inability of wound healing. A person experiencing a diabetes attack might experience anxiety, fatigue, and weakness. They will have frequent urination symptoms. This might be difficult for some patients. If a small wound occurs, it would be difficult to heal, and it might make the patient worried.


Can Diabetes Be Cured?

To date, there is no cure for diabetes. Diabetes mellitus can only be treated and controlled. In some people, though it is controlled and treated, it might occur again. To manage diabetes effectively, patients would always need to control their blood glucose levels.


How Do You Feel When Your Blood Sugar Is Too High?

The following are the symptoms that will be experienced by a patient who is affected by hyperglycemia.
- Increased thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Fatigue.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Shortness of breath.
- Stomach pain.
- Fruity breath odor.
- A very dry mouth.


How Do You Confirm Diabetes?

Diabetes is commonly diagnosed with the help of fasting sugar blood tests or HbA1c blood tests. It is also known as glycated hemoglobin tests. A fasting blood sugar test is taken after the patient has been on an empty stomach for at least eight hours.


How Can I Lower My Blood Sugar Quickly?

The time taken to lower the blood glucose levels differs from patient to patient. However, they can follow these.
- Exercising regularly.
- Control the intake of carbohydrates.
- Increasing fiber intake.
- Drinking adequate water and staying hydrated.
- Choosing foods that have a low glycemic index.
- Controlling stress levels.


Can You Overeat Sugar If You Have Diabetes?

Overeating sugar does not cause diabetes. But, if you are already having diabetes, you should restrict the intake of sweets and sugars. This will help you to prevent further complications. If you are following a healthy diet plan, eating chocolate and sugar in considerable quantities is good.


Can People With Diabetes Eat Sweets?

People with diabetes have few restrictions on having sweets. They can choose some alternatives. The following are some diabetic friendly sweets.
- Granola with no added sugars and fresh fruit.
- Graham crackers with nut butter.
- Angel food cake.
- Sugar-free hot chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon.
- Sugar-free fudge popsicle.


How to Know If You Have Diabetes?

The presence of the following signs and symptoms might indicate that you are affected by diabetes.
- Increased thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Extreme hunger.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Fatigue.
- Irritability.
However, definitive laboratory testing of blood glucose levels is mandatory to confirm the diagnosis.


How to Avoid Diabetes?

The following are specific lifestyle measures you can make to avoid getting affected with diabetes mellitus.
- Manage your weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a balanced and healthy diet.
- Limit processed foods.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Quit smoking.
- Control your blood pressure.


What Foods Should a Diabetic Patient Avoid?

The following are the foods that any diabetic patient should strictly avoid to control his or her blood sugar levels.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Grains that are rich in trans fats.
- White bread.
- Pasta and rice.
- Fruit-flavored yogurt.
- Sweetened breakfast cereals.
- Flavored coffee drinks.
- Honey.
- Dried Fruits.


How Many Types of Diabetes Are There?

There are three main types of diabetes. They are as follows.
- Type 1 is known as diabetes insipidus.
- Type 2 is known as diabetes mellitus.
- Gestational diabetes.


What Are the Signs of Gestational Diabetes?

The following are the signs and symptoms that can be warning signals for gestational diabetes in a female patient. They are:
- Extreme fatigue and lethargy.
- Urge to urinate increases.
- Extremely dry mouth and constant thirst.
- Feeling severe nausea and vomiting, especially after eating.
- Unusually intense cravings for sweet foods and drinks.
- Blurred vision.
- Tingling in the hands or feet.


How Does Diabetes Affect the Body?

The excess blood sugar levels seen in diabetes mellitus can severely affect blood vessels all over the body and cause complications. It can cause severe damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and other body organs. It can also cause sexual problems and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.


How Long Can You Live With Diabetes Without Diagnosis?

Untreated or undiagnosed diabetes mellitus can go unnoticed for a longer duration. This is because a mild to moderate increase in blood sugar levels do not cause any symptoms. When blood sugars rise significantly, people start to notice symptoms. The earliest sign is usually excessive thirst.


How Long Does It Take for Diabetes to Damage Kidneys?

The majority of the patients with diabetes insipidus usually develop some functional change in the kidneys within a period of two to five years after diagnosis. About 30 to 40 percent may progress to even more severe kidney disease, usually within a period of about 10 to 30 years.


Does Diabetes Affect Your Eyes?

Yes, diabetes will be affecting the eyes, but only in severe cases. Diabetic retinopathy does not occur immediately once diabetes occurs in a patient. It occurs only in patients who are suffering from chronic diabetes. The only way to know if diabetes is affecting your eye is by having a clinical eye examination with an ophthalmologist.


What Is the Root Cause of Diabetes?

The root cause of diabetes is primarily our diet and sedentary lifestyle. After consuming food, the food containing carbohydrates are broken down into sugar. These sugars trigger the pancreas to produce insulin and are then stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for future use. However, there is a limit for the amount of glycogen the liver and muscles can store. When this limit exceeds, the person can get affected by diabetes.


How Does Smoking Affect Diabetes?

Patients who are chronic smokers are more likely to get affected with type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. Smoking can also make it challenging to manage the disease and regulate insulin levels. This is due to the fact that increased levels of nicotine can reduce the effectiveness of insulin.


Which Fruits Are Good for Diabetes?

The following are the fruits that are good and safe in diabetes.
- Apples.
- Avocados.
- Bananas.
- Berries.
- Cherries.
- Grapefruit.
- Kiwi fruit.


How to Reduce the Risk of Diabetes?

The following are the different ways by which we can reduce the risk of getting affected by diabetes.
- Do workouts regularly.
- Drink water sufficiently.
- Try to lose your additional fat.
- Quit smoking.
- Do not overeat.
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
Dr. Raveendran S R
Dr. Raveendran S R



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