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I'm a Doctor and This is the #1 Cause of Diabetes

WebMD’s Chief Medical Officer warns about the diabetes epidemic.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

In my work as an internal medicine physician and the Chief Medical Officer of WebMD I see patients with diabetes and those at risk for diabetes all the time nowadays. It truly is an epidemic. The dangers of high blood sugar are enormous — eye damage, kidney damage. erectile dysfunction, heart disease. The list goes on and on. Too often, folks think "Oh, I just have a touch of sugar" or "I will just take a medicine." Instead, we need to focus on prevention, and when diagnosed, be aggressive about reversing it or at least slowing its progression. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Your Pancreas Stops Making Insulin

Doctor in white medical lab coat points ballpoint pen on anatomical model of human or animal pancreas

Type 1 diabetes is insulin deficiency. This means your pancreas stops making insulin. You can't get glucose into your cells for energy, and instead your blood sugar gets dangerously elevated. This usually occurs early on in life — childhood — but there are some subtypes that can occur in adults. We don't know the exact cause but there likely is an autoimmune aspect, where your body is attacking and destroying the beta cells of the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin for life to survive.


Your Body Doesn't Respond to Insulin

insulin resistance

Type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance. Your body makes insulin but your body doesn't respond to it. It's like the broken cell phone charger — you plug your phone in but there's not a good connection and your phone doesn't charge. Same for your cell with Type 2 diabetes. Your pancreas produces insulin but your cells don't respond to it, so you don't get glucose into your cells so you can use as energy. It's believed that 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes is related to obesity. Fat cells are metabolically active and secretes hormones that makes it harder to your body to function properly.


You Had Pancreatic Cancer

Doctor examine an x-ray picture of pancreas

Pancreatic cancer can be a cause of Type 2 diabetes. Pancreatic cancer is increasing so we are seeing Type 2 more often in such patients. The reason is because the cancer is destroying the cells in the pancreas producing insulin — or making them lose their function. Up to 75% of people with pancreatic cancer may develop diabetes. Some experts are actually calling it Type 3c diabetes. 


You Had These Conditions

Diabetic woman taking blood sample with lancet pen at home.

Some endocrine conditions such as Cushing's Disease can cause Type 2 diabetes. Your body produces too much cortisol which increases your blood sugar level. Your body can't keep up producing enough insulin, and your blood sugar shoots up. If you treat Cushing's, your blood sugar can return to normal. Some people are famliar with this fro when they take prednisone and their blood sugar goes up while on it.

RELATED: Habits Secretly Increasing Your Pancreatic Cancer Risk, Say Physicians


You Are Pregnant

pregnant woman drinking coffee

Gestational diabetes refers to the development of diabetes during pregnancy. Basically, the placenta is putting our various hormones that make your blood sugar rise since your pancreas can't make enough insulin to compensate. The extra weight during pregnancy can also make your cells resistant to the effect of insulin. About 5-10% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes, and it's usually diagnosed around the 24th week. It's estimated that almost half of women who develop gestational diabetes ultimately develop Type 2 diabetes so you need to be vigilant about the signs and symptoms, and be sure to eat healthily and exercise post pregnancy.

RELATED: Signs Your Gut is "Unhealthy," Say Physicians


What You Should Do if You Notice These Signs

woman consulting with female doctor

If you notice signs and symptoms of diabetes, you need to get checked ASAP. It's a simple blood test which will tell you and your doctor if you have diabetes or prediabetes. the good news is more and more research suggests you can reverse Type 2 diabetes with a healthy lifestyle — especially with 7% weight loss. The key is to start early. Most success comes within the first 3 years of diagnosis. Don't delay — I've seen too many patients tell me they were "too busy" to come in. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Dr. John Whyte CMO of WebMD is an expert on preventative care and author of the Take Control Series.

John Whyte, MD, MPH
Dr. John Whyte, MD, MPH is a popular physician and writer who has been communicating to the public about health issues for nearly two decades. Read more about John