Updated: 31 Aug 2023, 22:19 pm IST
Medically Reviewed by

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder that occurs when your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be. This condition can increase the risk of heart problems, kidney diseases and impact other parts of the body overtime.


Diabetes or Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic metabolic disorder characterised by high blood glucose levels, commonly known as blood sugar levels. It usually occurs when your body is unable to produce enough insulin or cannot effectively utilise the insulin it produces. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the absorption and utilisation of glucose by the cells in the body.

An estimated 77 million adults over 18 have type 2 diabetes, and almost 25 million are pre-diabetics in India. More than 50 percent of people are unaware that they are suffering from a serious disease like diabetes, which is even more dangerous, as per WHO.

There are many types of diabetes, two of which are more common: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes develops during early childhood, and type 2 diabetes gets diagnosed later in life and occurs due to lifestyle factors such as obesity and physical inactivity. Regardless of which type of diabetes you develop, you have to control blood sugar levels to avoid complications. If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to various complications, including heart disease, nerve damage, vision problems, kidney damage, and several other health problems.

Some of the best ways to manage diabetes are monitoring regular blood sugar levels, adopting a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity, and in some cases, taking medication or insulin. It is vital to get it checked early on and know if you are at risk or not. Early detection and proper management of diabetes are vital to prevent complications and maintain overall health.

Causes of Diabetes

The causes of diabetes can vary depending on the kind of diabetes that has affected you. Here are some of the primary causes of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes

Autoimmune factors: In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells (beta cells) in the pancreas. The cause of this autoimmune response is not fully understood, but genetic and environmental factors are believed to play a role.

Type 2 diabetes

  • Insulin resistance: It is a condition where the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin. This leads to high blood sugar levels. The exact mechanism behind insulin resistance is not fully understood, but it is influenced by genetic and lifestyle factors.
  • Genetic factors: Family history and genetics can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Certain gene variants can affect insulin production , insulin sensitivity, and other factors involved in glucose metabolism.

Gestational diabetes

  • Hormonal changes: The changes in your hormones can interfere with insulin, leading to gestational diabetes.
  • Insulin production: Some women may not produce enough insulin to meet the increased insulin demands during pregnancy, leading to gestational diabetes.

Other causes

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Consuming a diet rich in processed foods, sugary drinks, unhealthy fats, and low in fibre
  • Some ethnic groups such as African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asians.

Key Facts of Diabetes

Major Symptoms
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • Blurred vision
  • Elevated hunger
  • Sore or wounds that take longer to heal
  • Numbness in feet or hands
  • Sudden weight loss
Necessary Health Tests
  • Fasting plasma glucose test
  • A1C test
  • Random plasma glucose test
  • Glucose challenge test
  • Oral glucose tolerance test
  • Insulin therapy
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels
  • Oral medication
  • Regular physical activity
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Monitoring carbohydrate intake

Symptoms of Diabetes

Since the body is unable to regulate glucose levels if someone develops diabetes, it is vital to take note of its symptoms. Here are some of the common symptoms of diabetes you should know:

  • Increased hunger
  • Dehydration
  • Frequent urination
  • Yeast infection
  • Slow healing
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Blurry vision
  • Lethargy
  • Dry and itchy skin

Diagnosis of Diabetes

Diabetes is typically diagnosed with blood tests and clinical evaluations. While the diagnosis may be different at different medical centres, some common diagnostic techniques include:

1. Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test

This test measures the blood sugar level after an overnight fast of at least 8 hours. A blood sample is taken, and if the fasting plasma glucose level is equal to or higher than 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) on two separate occasions, it means that you have diabetes.

2. Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)

For this test, the individual fasts overnight and then drinks a glucose-rich beverage. The doctor may take blood samples before the drink and at regular intervals to check the body’s response to glucose. If the blood sugar level is equal to or exceeds 200 mg/dL after 2 hours, it indicates diabetes.

3. Haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test

This is another test that measures the percentage of haemoglobin in the blood that is glycated (bound to glucose). An HbA1c level equal to or greater than 6.5 percent is indicative of diabetes.

4. Random plasma glucose test

For this test, the doctor takes a blood sample during any time of the day, regardless of when the person last ate. If the random plasma glucose level is equal to or exceeds 200 mg/dL and the individual exhibits classic symptoms of diabetes.

You may have to undergo different diagnostic tests or protocols as guided by your healthcare professional. If you have any symptoms of diabetes, consult your doctor and they will recommend the necessary treatment you require.

Treatment of Diabetes

1. Oral medication

Medication is prescribed depending on the type of diabetes and individual needs. These medications help bring down blood sugar levels.

2. Insulin therapy

Individuals with type 1 diabetes and some with type 2 diabetes may require insulin injections to regulate blood sugar levels effectively.

3. Blood sugar monitoring

If you have diabetes, it becomes vital to self-monitor blood sugar levels regularly using a glucometer. It helps individuals with diabetes to understand their glucose levels and take appropriate measures to keep them in control.

4. Regular check ups

Not just self-monitoring, it is also recommended to pay regular visits to healthcare professionals for diabetes management. Monitoring blood sugar levels, assessing overall health, managing medication and addressing complications can help manage your blood glucose levels.

5. Healthy eating

It is vital to eat a well-balanced diet that includes appropriate carbohydrate intake, portion control, and regular meal timing can help manage blood sugar levels.

6. Regular exercise

You should engage in regular physical activity to improve insulin sensitivity, manage weight and control blood sugar levels. It is essential to choose activities suitable for you and do them under the guidance of a professional.

Diabetes Related FAQs

Does eating sugar cause diabetes?

While eating sugar doesn't cause any type of diabetes, eating it in excess regularly can put you at risk. The main cause of developing diabetes has more to do with the lack of insulin in your system than sugar.

Can diabetics skip breakfast?

No, skipping breakfast can lead to a spike in your blood sugar levels, which can lead to dire consequences. It is best to eat a healthy breakfast that helps you keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Can diabetics eat fruits?

Yes. While some fruits can cause your blood sugar levels to rise, others will help you get the necessary nutrients your body requires. So, the key is to find a balance. Generally, fruits contain carbohydrates and a sugar called fructose, which can cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar levels. However, they are also rich in essential vitamins, plant compounds and minerals.

What are the types of diabetes?

The main types of diabetes are: 1. Type 1 diabetes: An autoimmune condition where the body's immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. 2. Type 2 diabetes: A condition where the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn't produce enough insulin. 3. Gestational diabetes: A temporary form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy.

Can diabetes be prevented?

While it is possible to prevent type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. You can control type 2 diabetes with some lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity and following a balanced diet.

What are the complications of diabetes?

Diabetes can lead to various complications if left ignored. Some of the most common complications include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot ulcers, retinopathy, and some skin conditions. Proper management and control of diabetes can help reduce the risk of complications.

Can diabetes be cured?

There is no cure for diabetes as such. However, it can be managed with proper management through lifestyle changes and medication. If properly controlled, diabetes can be managed without leading to any complications.

What can diabetics eat?

You can include a variety of nutritious food in your diet. Eat more vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Choose foods with low glycemic index, such as berries. Avoid eating sugary foods, processed foods, and saturated fats. You should also practise portion control and monitor your blood sugar levels on a regular basis.

Are obese or overweight people at a higher risk of developing diabetes?

Yes, being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Excess weight, especially around the abdomen, can lead to insulin resistance, making your body less responsive to insulin. It is best to maintain a healthy weight to avoid diabetes.

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