Investigating the Causes, Risk Factors, and Signs of Diabetes 

Your body breaks down the food you eat into sugar (glucose) and releases it into your bloodstream. The pancreas releases insulin allowing the glucose to be utilized as energy. When you have diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin (or can’t utilize it as well) to break down the glucose causing an elevation in your sugar levels.

This article, the second in a series relating to diabetes education, will break down the three types of diabetes and discuss the cause, risk factors, and signs and symptoms for each. Some of the signs and symptoms are similar for each type so it is important to discuss them with your health care provider.  

Link to prior article is below. 

Type 1 Diabetes 

The Cause 

  • In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops producing insulin as a result of the body attacking itself by mistake (autoimmune reaction). The condition typically occurs in children and young adults, but adults can develop type 1 diabetes. 

Risk Factors 

  • Age. 
  • Family history. 

Signs and Symptoms  

Symptoms develop quickly in type 1 diabetes.  

  • Increased thirst. 
  • Increased urination. 
  • Bed-wetting in children who have never wet the bed during the night. 
  • Feeling very hungry. 
  • Losing weight without trying. 
  • Feeling irritable or having other mood changes. 
  • Feeling tired and weak. 
  • Blurred vision. 

Type 2 Diabetes 

The Cause 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not utilize insulin as it should, struggling to keep blood sugar levels under control.  

Risk Factors 

  • Having been diagnosed with prediabetes.  
  • Being overweight. 
  • Being over the age of 45. 
  • Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes. 
  • Not being physically active. 
  • Having received a diagnosis of gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy). 
  • Giving birth to a baby weighing over nine pounds.  
  • Genetic factors associated with those of African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, and Asian American descent.  
  • Individuals with non-alcoholic liver disease.  
  • Damage to the pancreas as a result of pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.  
  • Certain medications can affect the production of insulin. It is important to speak with your health care provider about all your medications. 

Signs and Symptoms   

Symptoms develop quite slowly and over time with type 2 diabetes. You may not have symptoms so it’s important to notice changes in your health. 

  • Increased thirst. 
  • Increased urination. 
  • Fatigue 
  • Weight loss. 
  • Blurry vision. 
  • Sores that are slow to heal or frequent infections. 
  • Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet. 
  • Red, swollen or tender gums. 

Gestation Diabetes 

The Cause 

The National Institute of Health reports that hormones produced by the placenta can contribute to insulin resistance, which occurs during late pregnancy. Most women can produce enough insulin to overcome this, but some are not able. Mothers who develop gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes as they get older. 

Risk Factors 

  • Having gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy. 
  • Giving birth to a baby who weighed over nine pounds. 
  • Being overweight.  
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes. 
  • Experiencing a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). 
  • Being of African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native of the Hawaiian Islands (Pacific Islander) descent.  

Signs and Symptoms 

  • Fatigue. 
  • Increased urination. (Pregnant women can have frequent urination but if you are concerned, please speak with your physician.) 
  • Blurred vision. 
  • Extreme thirst. 
  • Nausea. 
  • Frequent bladder, vaginal or skin infections. 
  • Sugar in the urine. 

Diabetes Health Tip 

During your yearly physical, your health care provider may write a prescription to test your blood sugar levels. It is important to have the test and follow up on the results. If your blood sugar levels come back higher than normal, but not high enough to be categorized into type 2 diabetes, it is important to speak with your physician and incorporate lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  

Diabetes Health Series 

This article, the second in a series relating to diabetes education, breaks down the three types of diabetes, discusses the cause, risk factors, signs and symptoms, and knowing how to manage the condition. A link to the first article is below. 

As part of living a healthier life, RPM Healthcare offers remote patient monitoring and care coaching services for those with diabetes and other health conditions. This series on diabetes, the RPM365 platform, and care coaches are aimed at working with you to achieve a healthy lifestyle and assist in helping you manage your diabetes, and other health conditions that can affect your everyday life. Visit for more information and to sign up for our free monthly webinars.    

All health content is reviewed by Irina Koyfman, DNP, NP-C, RN, Chief Population Health Officer, RPM Healthcare. 

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