Causes and risk factors
Exact causes of the malfunction that occurs in the body is not specifically known, but is largely attributed to both genetic and environmental factors. These include:
- A lack of insulin production (Type 1 diabetes)
- Insulin resistance (Type 2 diabetes)
- Pregnancy (Gestational diabetes)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome / PCOS (A condition where a woman experiences irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity.)
- Genetics and family history (Odds do appear to increase if a parent or sibling has diabetes)
- Age (The risk of type 2 diabetes does appear to increase as a person ages, particularly after 45. Younger adults or children with decreased muscle mass and reduced amounts of exercise are also at risk. Typically type 1 diabetes is diagnosed before age 30).
- Obesity (Excess body fat causes inflammation and leads to insulin resistance. Not all obese or overweight individuals develop diabetes. The link between the two is still be researched).
- Poor diet (An increased resistance to insulin occurs in diets high in calories, fat and cholesterol)
- Lack of exercise (Regular aerobic exercise and resistance training help muscle tissue respond better to insulin)
- Ethnicity (Some ethnic groups have been noted to have a higher diagnosis rate of diabetes – although research is not 100% conclusive. These include African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic/Latino-Americans, Asians, Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders and people of Indian origin.
- Exposure to a viral illness (This can play a role in type 1 diabetes)
- Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels (i.e. fat carried in the blood. Low levels of high-density lipoprotein / ‘good cholesterol’, increases the risk for type 2 diabetes)
- The presence of autoantibodies (Damaging immune system cells)
- High blood pressure (More than 140/90 millimetres of mercury is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes)
Diabetes complications and health concerns
Long-term health concerns because of diabetes lead to a higher risk of other complications. The less your blood-sugar is controlled, the higher the risk of other health problems, many of which are disabling or even life-threatening.
- Heart problems and cardiovascular disease
- Neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Nephropathy (kidney damage)
- Retinopathy (eye damage)
- Skin infections (bacterial and fungal)
- Hearing impairment
- Alzheimer’s disease
Gestational diabetes complications for a baby include excess growth, low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), type 2 diabetes in later life stages and even death (before or shortly after birth). A mother can experience complications such as preeclampsia, needing a caesarean due to the large size of the baby, damage to the heart, kidneys, nerves and the eye, as well as subsequent gestational diabetes in another pregnancy.