What causes diabetes?


Dr J. C. Mangwiro MMED (UZ)
MSC Diabetes (Cardiff University, UK), FCP (ECSA)


What causes Diabetes:

n Risk factors and prevention;

n Symptoms;

n Getting a diagnosis;

n Long-term effects;

n Diabetes is a life-long disease that affects the way one’s body handles glucose, a kind of sugar, in one’s  blood.

Most people with the condition have type 2. There are about 27 million people in the US with it. Another 86 million have prediabetes:  Their blood glucose is not normal, but not high enough to be diabetes yet.

In Zimbabwe, 10 percent of the population has diabetes. According to IDF ATLAS 2005, of these 95 percent are type 2.

What Causes Diabetes?

The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin. It’s what lets one’s cells turn glucose from the food one eats into energy.

People with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but their cells don’t use it as well as they should. This is insulin resistance.

At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to try to get glucose into the cells. But eventually it can’t keep up, and the sugar builds up in one’s blood instead.

Usually a combination of things cause type 2 diabetes, including:

Genes: Scientists have found different bits of DNA that affect how one’s body makes insulin.

Extra weight: Being overweight or obese can cause insulin resistance, especially if one carries one’s extra kilograms around the waist and abdomen.

Now type 2 diabetes affects kids and teens as well as adults, mainly because of childhood obesity.

Metabolic syndrome: People with insulin resistance often have a group of conditions including high blood glucose, extra fat around the waist, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and triglycerides.

These we will discuss in detail in later issues.

Too much glucose from one’s liver: When one’s blood sugar is low, one’s liver makes and sends out glucose. After one eats, one’s blood sugar goes up, and usually the liver will slow down and store its glucose for later. But some people’s livers don’t. They keep cranking out sugar.

Bad communication between cells: Sometimes cells send the wrong signals or don’t pick up messages correctly. When these problems affect how one’s cells make and use insulin or glucose, a chain reaction can lead to diabetes.

Broken beta cells: If the cells that make the insulin send out the wrong amount of insulin at the wrong time, one’s blood sugar gets thrown off. High blood glucose can damage these cells, too.

Risk Factors and Prevention

While certain things make getting diabetes more likely, they won’t give one the disease. But the more that apply to one, the higher one’s chances of getting it are.

Some things one can’t control:

Age: 45 or older;

Family: A parent, sister, or brother with diabetes;

Ethnicity: African-American, Alaska native, native American, Asian-American, Hispanic or Latino, or Pacific Islander-American.

Some things are related to one’s health and medical history. One’s doctor may be able to help.


Heart and blood vessel disease;

High blood pressure, even if it’s treated and under control;

Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol;

High triglycerides;

Being overweight or obese;

Having a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds;

Having gestational diabetes;

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS);

Acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition with dark rashes around one’s neck or armpits;


Other risk factors have to do with one’s daily habits and lifestyle. These are the one’s one can really do something about.

Getting little or no exercise;



Sleeping too little or too much.

Because one can’t change what happened in the past, focus on what one can do now and going forward. Take medications and follow the doctor’s suggestions to be healthy. Simple changes at home can make a big difference, too.

Lose weight: Dropping just 7 percent to 10 percent of your weight can cut one’s risk of type 2 diabetes in half.

Get active: Moving muscles use insulin. Thirty minutes of brisk walking a day will cut one’s risk by almost a third.

Eat right: Avoid highly processed carbs, sugary drinks, and trans and saturated fats. Limit red and processed meats.

Quit smoking: Work with the doctor to avoid gaining weight, so one doesn’t create one problem by solving another.


The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be so mild one may not notice them. In fact, about 8 million people who have it don’t know it.

Being very thirsty;

Peeing a lot;

Blurry vision;

Being irritable;

Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet;

Feeling worn out;

Wounds that don’t heal;

Yeast infections that keep coming back.

Getting a Diagnosis

One’s doctor can test one’s blood for signs of diabetes. Usually doctors will test one on two different days to confirm the diagnosis. But if one’s blood glucose is very high or one has a lot of symptoms, one test may be all one needs.

HBA1C (glycocylated haemoglobin): It’s like an average of one’s blood glucose over the past 2 or 3 months.

Fasting plasma glucose: This measures one’s blood sugar on an empty stomach. One won’t be able to eat or drink anything except water for 8 hours before the test.

Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): This checks one’s blood glucose before and 2 hours after one drinks a sweet drink to see how one’s body handles the sugar.

Long-Term Effects

Over time, high blood sugar can damage and cause problems with one’s:

Heart and blood vessels;



Nerves, which can lead to trouble with digestion, the feeling in one’s feet, and one’s sexual response;

Wound healing;


The best way to avoid these complications is to manage one’s diabetes well.

Take one’s diabetes medications or insulin on time.

Check one’s blood glucose.

Eat right, and meals must not be skipped.

See one’s  doctor regularly to check for early signs of trouble.{1}

References: 1.WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on June 21, 2017. If you have any questions or would like any additional information on this and other health articles, please email happiness.zengeni@zimpapers.co.zw or whatsapp 0772577170.


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