About Diabetes

Diabetes is caused by an inability to produce or utilize insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin is needed by the body to process blood sugar (glucose) and transport it into cells that need it for energy.

The term “diabetes” comes from the Greek phrase diabetes mellitus. The word diabetes means “to pass through.” Patients with diabetes urinate frequently and are often thirsty. Mellitus means “like honey.” The urine of someone with diabetes smells sweet, because sugar is passing through the body, instead of being absorbed and utilized by cells.

Type 1 Diabetes

Previously called juvenile-onset diabetes, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Individuals with type 1 diabetes must take insulin, either by injection or other means. Although type 1 diabetes develops most commonly in children between the ages of 5 and 15, it can occur at any age.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, previously called “adult-onset diabetes,” usually affects people who are over 40 years old and overweight. People with type 2 diabetes often exhibit insulin resistance, a syndrome in which the cells of the body do not respond to the insulin that is present, even if adequate hormone is being produced. The pancreas can secrete excess insulin to compensate. However, in time the insulin-making cells may become exhausted and begin to fail.

Maturity-onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY)

This form of diabetes is inherited, and can vary in severity. Most often, MODY resembles a very mild version of type 1 diabetes, with continued partial insulin production and normal insulin sensitivity. A person with MODY is typically in their teens or 20s and thin.

Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, some women can develop a temporary form of diabetes that typically resolves after delivery. Symptoms usually occur during the second or third trimester when the baby’s body has developed and is growing. Women with gestational diabetes often give birth to babies who are larger than average.

On the Rise

According to the American Diabetes Association, about 7 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes. Of these, more than 14 million have been diagnosed — but another 6 million have not yet been diagnosed, and are unaware that they have it.

The incidence of type 2 diabetes is rising. In fact, diabetes is now considered an epidemic due to the public’s general increase in obesity and lack of adequate physical exercise. African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans/Latinos, Native Americans and Asian-Americans are at the highest risk for type 2 diabetes.

The real toll comes from the health complications of diabetes, which are often serious. About 180,000 people in the U.S. die every year as a result of these complications.

Millions Have “Pre-diabetes”

About 41 million people in the U.S. are believed to have “pre-diabetes,” which will lead to the full-blown disease if not addressed. Many people with pre-diabetes have a cluster of problems known as “metabolic syndrome.” This syndrome includes high cholesterol and triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol, central abdominal obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance.

Fortunately, research shows that taking steps early, such as losing weight and exercising, can reduce the risk of becoming diabetic, even for people with pre-diabetes.

Know Your Risk Factors

Having one or more of these factors can increase your risk of developing diabetes:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Age 45 and older
  • High blood pressure
  • HDL cholesterol 50 or lower and/or a triglyceride level of 250 or higher
  • Being a mother who has delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • African-American, Hispanic-American/Latino, Native American or Asian-American heritage

Signs and Symptoms

Diabetes often goes undiagnosed for years, because many of its symptoms are subtle and may seem harmless. However, detecting diabetes early can lower the risk of developing serious complications later on.

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Increased fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea and vomiting

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

  • Symptoms mentioned for type 1, plus:
  • Tingling or numbness in legs, feet or skin
  • Frequent skin infections or itchy skin
  • Slow healing of cuts and bruises
  • Frequent yeast infections

Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia

Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) causes many of the complications of diabetes. Typically, hyperglycemia is managed with medication (either insulin or a drug that makes the body more responsive to insulin), along with diet and exercise.

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can occur when the body’s blood sugar level has fallen, due to natural activity such as strenuous exercise, or medication. Symptoms can include dizziness, hunger, nausea, shakiness, fatigue and weakness. In severe cases, hypoglycemia can cause seizures, unconsciousness and even death.

Complications of Diabetes

Having diabetes increases your risk of complications, many of which can be serious threats to your health and life:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • Vision problems or blindness
  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage and pain)
  • Foot complications due to nerve damage or poor circulation
  • Skin complications such as non healing wounds and infections
  • Gastroparesis (slowing of digestion)
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction

Early Detection

Knowing whether you have diabetes or pre-diabetes is important, because the sooner you take steps to treat it and its underlying causes, the better your chance of reducing your risk of complications.

  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms
  • Have regular physical exams
  • Report any symptoms of diabetes to your physician
  • Have regular eye exams

Nearly 9 out of 10 people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes are overweight.

Treatment Options

Diabetes treatments are tailored to the individual, and may include:

  • Diet, exercise and lifestyle changes
  • Medications that make the body more sensitive to insulin
  • Insulin therapy (by injection, infusion, inhalation or pump)
  • Islet cell transplantation

Be sure to get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, 5 days a week or more.

Source: http://www.cityofhope.org/Documents/Patient%20Care/MED%208120_Diabetes.pdf