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What is Secondary Diabetes?

By Matt Brady
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Secondary diabetes, also known as secondary diabetes mellitus, is the same as type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the regard that it's caused by the pancreas' inability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin. Unlike other forms of diabetes, however, which are the result of genetic and environmental factors, secondary diabetes occurs as a reaction to other internal ailments and complications. Gestational and iatrogenic diabetes are common forms of secondary diabetes.

Types 2 diabetes is somewhat more preventable than other type because it is generally caused by a combination of factors like obesity, pregnancy, a high-fat diet, or excessive alcohol intake, rather than a genetic problem with the pancreas. If the root of the problem can be properly and quickly treated, it is possible to prevent this particular type of diabetes from occurring.

Iatrogenic diabetes is one of the most common forms of this disease. It is caused by medical treatments which affect the pancreas' ability to produce insulin. This could be the result of having to surgically remove the pancreas, or perhaps caused by prescription medications with side effects that damage the pancreas.

Gestational is another form of secondary diabetes and is brought on by an over saturation of glucose in the bloodstream during late-term pregnancy. The body needs more insulin to break down the extra glucose, and in certain cases, simply cannot cope with the demand. As a result, some pregnant women contract diabetes. Gestational diabetes is often a temporary situation, lasting only until shortly after birth. If caught in time, most hospitals and doctors are well-equipped to treat the condition.

If left untreated, gestational diabetes can be very dangerous and even deadly; women with gestational diabetes have much higher odds of getting preeclampsia, a condition which causes blood pressure to skyrocket. If the condition is severe enough, seizures and organ failure can occur, which can be potentially fatal to mother and child. Even if it isn't too severe and goes away, gestational diabetes is still something mothers and doctors ought to take seriously. It can increase the chances for jaundice in extremely early childhood, and can also make infants pack on more weight in the womb, leading to complications during delivery.

Though sometimes preventable if the risk factors are caught early on, secondary diabetes can be particularly difficult to treat since it can affect individuals with no genetic history of diabetes. This makes it harder to plan for the disease as well as possibly more difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused it. In some cases, it might be fairly obvious to ascertain why secondary diabetes occurred, as in pregnancy. In other cases, as when induced by medical prescriptions such as birth control, it may be more difficult to understand the exact cause of the disease and how best to treat it.

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Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Aug 26, 2014

I agree with the article, something it's difficult to prevent secondary diabetes because one doesn't expect it to happen and doctors don't know what caused it exactly. I have secondary diabetes. It was diagnosed at the same time as my thyroid disease. I was also under a lot of stress due to financial problems for several years before the diagnosis. I think that ultimately, stress caused my diabetes. But it's difficult to know if this is truly what caused it or not.

By discographer — On Aug 25, 2014

@bluedolphin-- I'm not a doctor or expert. But from what I've read, general consensus is that type 2 diabetes is caused by lifestyle and it is preventable with diet and exercise. It may seem that secondary diabetes runs in families because families tend to have the same habits such as sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets.

Secondary diabetes during pregnancy however is completely different and it doesn't necessarily have to do with obesity or lack of exercise. And this type of diabetes generally resolves after the mother gives birth.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 25, 2014

So type 2 diabetes is completely preventable and it doesn't have genetic causes whatsoever? Can't someone who is not obese or pregnant get type 2, secondary diabetes? Can't type 2 diabetes run in families?

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