Diabetes today is a significant health issue for many countries worldwide. As per the WHO, “the number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. The increasing prevalence has been observed to rise more rapidly in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries”. Similarly, in 2019, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the blood glucose, also called blood sugar, gets too high in the body. Over the years, the changing lifestyles in cities and rural areas, globalization, unhealthy eating habits, especially in teens and adults, an increase in obese and geriatric population, and the lack of daily physical activities have led to the increasing prevalence of diabetes. 

What causes diabetes?

The food is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into the bloodstream. The rise in blood sugar makes the pancreas release insulin, which in turn regulates blood sugar. Insulin helps the cells to use blood sugar for the use of energy. In diabetes, either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or is unable to effectively use the insulin it produces, resulting in high blood sugar in the bloodstream. Over a period of time, high glucose in the blood can cause many health problems. 

What are the symptoms associated with diabetes?

The symptoms of diabetes vary according to the blood sugar level in the body. Initially, the symptoms are so mild that it largely remains unnoticed. However, as diabetes progresses, the person starts to experience symptoms such as blurry vision, dry mouth & itchy skin, frequent urination, pain or numbness in feet or legs, fatigue, feeling thirsty, and a weight change. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to appear suddenly, while type 2 diabetes appears over time and has few signals. Sometimes the symptoms might occur after a viral illness. Early diagnosis and treatment play a key role in managing the complications of diabetes that may arise in later life. 

What are the different types of diabetes and their treatment options?

To deal with the rising prevalence of diabetes, the key pharma and biotech companies worldwide are actively working on the therapeutics front. Some of the most common types of diabetes and the companies in the respective domain are as follows- 

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is previously known as insulin-dependent (or juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes) and is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults; however, it may occur at any age. As per the  American Diabetes Association, around 1.6 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, including about 187,000 children and adolescents

The exact causes of Type 1 diabetes are unknown. It is observed that in type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks or destroys cells in the pancreas that produces insulin. The affected person’s body requires maintaining a normal insulin level to survive. Several types of insulin are available in the market to cater to the needs depending on duration, mechanics, and requirement. At present, companies such as Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, Mylan, Bayer, Janssen, Adocia, and others are actively engaged in the Type 1 Diabetes Therapeutics Market

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common types of diabetes. As per the CDC, “more than 34 million Americans have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes. Similarly, in the UK, type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90% of all diabetes cases. It is previously called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes as it mostly affects middle-aged and older people. However, in recent times more and more children, teens, and young adults are also found to be affected by it. 

In Type 2 Diabetes, the body is unable to make or use insulin. Several factors such as genetics, lifestyle, being overweight influence the occurrence of Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a life-threatening disease. The adoption of a healthy lifestyle, such as doing regular physical activity and eating healthy food can be helpful in managing Type 2 Diabetes. Similarly, avoiding sugar can also lower the blood sugar level. If the person is unable to maintain the blood sugar level in the body, the person might require to take medication. At present, many different types of medication with different mechanisms are available in the market to lower blood sugar. In some cases, a single medication will be enough; however, at times, a combination of medications may be required. Apart from the available medication in the market, some of the key companies such as Eli Lilly and Company, Oramed, AstraZeneca, and others are actively working to provide new therapies for Type 2 Diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. The cells become more resistant to insulin as the hormonal changes take place in the body. As per the World Diabetes Foundation, Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM), also referred to as diabetes during pregnancy, impacts nearly 18 million women every year, roughly equal to 14% of pregnancies globally.

In most cases, it goes away after the baby’s birth. However, it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes in the future for women and the child. It is observed that about 50% of mothers with GDM might develop type 2 diabetes within five years. To provide an effective therapeutics solution, companies including Novo Nordisk, Boehringer Ingelheim, and others are operating in the Gestational Diabetes Market

Apart from the above-mentioned diabetes, monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes are some other less common diabetes.

What are the risk factors associated with diabetes?

For type 1 diabetes, family history and age are the major risk factors. It is observed that children, teens, or young adults are most affected by it. Similarly, race and ethnicity also influence the occurrence of type 1 diabetes, like in the case of the United States, where whites are most affected with this type of diabetes than African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans. 

For type 2 diabetes, weight, family history, age, and physical inactivity are the major risk factors. Apart from these, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol & triglyceride levels, race or ethnicity, and gestational diabetes can also act as risk factors. For gestational diabetes, the women above the age of 25 and who are overweight before pregnancy will get most affected by this diabetes.

What are the complications of diabetes?

The rise in blood sugar is associated with increased risks for disability and life-threatening complications. As per the CDC, “diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and is a significant cause for the kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, and adult blindness.” Similarly, if it remains unchecked and untreated, it may increase the chance of getting cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and narrowing of arteries. Some other common complications of diabetes include hearing impairment, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and foot damage. The risk for developing the complications of diabetes can be reduced by keeping a regular check on blood sugar and blood fats. Similarly, regular lifestyle changes are also beneficial. 

What lies ahead?

Diabetes has emerged as a significant health problem in both developed and developing countries. It has created an extra burden on the healthcare system, especially in developing countries. Besides the old age population, a significant number of young people are also found to be affected by diabetes today. As per the American Diabetes Association, about 210,000 Americans under age 20 are estimated to have diagnosed with diabetes, which is approximately 0.25% of the population. 

Early diagnosis and treatment definitely play a key role in the prevention and management of diabetes. Apart from this, a healthy lifestyle with better food choices and physical activity are also quite beneficial, especially for type 2 diabetes. Similarly, in the coming year, raising awareness among the general public, the development of novel drugs & therapies, and increased healthcare spending across the world are expected to improve diabetes and related disease.