Diabetes is among the leading causes of death and disability in the country. While some types of diabetes are not preventable, others are. This is why it is important to keep track of your habits and health, especially if you are pre-diabetic (an estimated 1 in 3 adults are, according to the CDC).
Here is what you need to know about diabetes, including what causes each type and how you can prevent the condition.
What causes diabetes?
Diabetes develops when your blood sugar levels get too high, or an excess of glucose in the bloodstream, according to Dr. Kevin Peterson, Vice President of Primary Care at the American Diabetes Association. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into blood sugar, which is used for energy. If there is too much glucose in the blood, it can lead to health issues, such as diabetes.
The direct cause for the condition varies depending on type.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the cells responsible for insulin production do not function properly, said Peterson. In this case, beta cells in the pancreas make little to no insulin.
Insulin is an essential hormone that regulates blood sugar. The hormone helps glucose reach the body’s other cells. Without insulin, glucose would build up in the bloodstream. Because of this, people with Type 1 require regular insulin injections.
Type 2 occurs when your body stops producing enough insulin or is not using it properly, said Peterson. The latter is known as "insulin resistance." When someone is insulin resistant, it makes it harder for them to regulate blood sugar levels.
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How do you get diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, while Type 2 is impacted by a multitude of factors, including weight gain, lack of exercise and diet.
Type 1 is not "directly inherited," but "it has a higher likelihood in people that have had a brother or sister or parent with diabetes," said Peterson. Type 2 is not considered a hereditary disorder, but you are substantially more likely to develop it if a first-degree relative has the condition.
The symptoms for Type 1 and Type 2 are similar, according to Peterson. Common symptoms include:
Polyuria, or urinating often
Polydipsia, or feeling thirsty
Extreme fatigue, or feeling very tired
The difference, however, comes through the onset of these symptoms. "With Type 1, it usually comes on very quickly," Peterson explained. "With Type 2 diabetes, it can come on more slowly, and so, sometimes people don't notice (the symptoms) as much."
How to prevent diabetes
Only Type 2 is largely preventable, and lifestyle changes are the main prevention method. "We know that changes in physical activity and weight loss and lifestyle changes can substantially reduce the risk of developing Type 2," said Peterson.
Fat decreases the effectiveness of insulin. To reduce the likelihood of getting Type 2, it is key to maintain a healthy lifestyle, said Peterson. This includes:
Dietary changes: Eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fats; and high in fruits, vegetables and grains.
Exercise: Engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity several times a week.
Diabetes is a "a serious problem," but it is a disease that can be monitored and managed with proper care, said Peterson. "A person with diabetes can have a completely normal life."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Diabetes prevention: Steps to take to manage the condition from expert