What causes diabetes?

The cause of diabetes varies depending on the type of diabetes.

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not known, but it is believed that genetic and environmental factors (possibly viruses) may be involved. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The hormone insulin is responsible for moving glucose into cells of the body to provide energy. When glucose cannot enter the cells, it builds up in the blood (hyperglycemia).

Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin and become resistant to its effects. People who are overweight or sedentary are at risk for developing insulin resistance.

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy and is due to pregnancy hormones that can make the body’s cells more resistant to the effects of insulin.

What are the risk factors for diabetes?

A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing diabetes. Risk factors vary depending on the type of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes risk factors

Risk factors related to type 1 diabetes include:

  • A family history of type 1 diabetes

  • Being born with jaundice

  • Exposure to certain viruses such as the mumps or Epstein-Barr virus

  • Living in a northern climate

  • Respiratory infection as a newborn

  • Specific at-risk genes found with genetic testing

  • Your mother had preeclampsia during pregnancy

Type 2 diabetes risk factors

Risk factors related to type 2 diabetes include:

  • African American, Hispanic American, or Native American ancestry

  • Age older than 45 years

  • Family history of type 2 diabetes

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

  • High cholesterol

  • History of gestational diabetes

  • Insulin resistance

  • Obesity

  • Prediabetes

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Gestational diabetes risk factors

Risk factors related to gestational diabetes include:

  • Having a baby who weighed more than nine pounds at birth

  • Having a fetus that died before birth (stillbirth)

  • African American, Latina, South or East Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American ancestry

  • Family history of diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Personal history of gestational diabetes


What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a general term for a group of metabolic disorders that affect the body’s ability to process and use sugar (glucose) for energy. Normally when you eat, the pancreas, an organ located in the upper abdomen, produces the hormone insulin to move glucose from the bloodstream into cells where it can be used for energy and growth. With diabetes, either the pancreas produces too little or no insulin, or the body’s cells don’t respond to the insulin.... Read more about diabetesintroduction


What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms can vary among individuals and the type of diabetes. Common symptoms include excessive thirst and excessive urination.... Read more about diabetessymptoms


How is diabetes treated?

At this time, there is no cure for diabetes. With regular medical care and consistent compliance with treatment, you can manage diabetes to minimize the risk of serious complications, such as diabetic retinopathy, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.... Read more about diabetestreatments

Medical Reviewer: Williams, Robert MD Last Annual Review Date: Dec 20, 2010 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetes