Diabetes mellitus (DM) comprises a group of disorders characterized by hyperglycemia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and results in $132 billion in total direct and indirect costs. Although the incidence of Type 1 diabetes has doubled over the past 30 years, the increase in Type 2 diabetes has been even more dramatic. An estimated 20–40% of cases in large pediatric diabetes centers are now Type 2, and the rates are expected to rise along with the epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity (Chapter 11).
It’s not uncommon for patients to suddenly feel unsteady and immediately need to reach for carbs, says Marjorie Cypress, a nurse practitioner at an endocrinology clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and 2014 president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. “When you have high blood sugar, your body has a problem regulating its glucose,” she explains. “If you’ve eaten something high in carbohydrates, your body shoots out a little too much insulin, and your glucose drops quickly. This makes you feel shaky, and you tend to crave carbs or sugar. This can lead to a vicious cycle.” These are the best foods for someone on a diabetic diet.
The amount of glucose in the bloodstream is tightly regulated by insulin and other hormones. Insulin is always being released in small amounts by the pancreas. When the amount of glucose in the blood rises to a certain level, the pancreas will release more insulin to push more glucose into the cells. This causes the glucose levels in the blood (blood glucose levels) to drop.
Other potentially important mechanisms associated with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance include: increased breakdown of lipids within fat cells, resistance to and lack of incretin, high glucagon levels in the blood, increased retention of salt and water by the kidneys, and inappropriate regulation of metabolism by the central nervous system. However, not all people with insulin resistance develop diabetes, since an impairment of insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells is also required.
In type 2 diabetes (formerly called non– insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes), the pancreas often continues to produce insulin, sometimes even at higher-than-normal levels, especially early in the disease. However, the body develops resistance to the effects of insulin, so there is not enough insulin to meet the body’s needs. As type 2 diabetes progresses, the insulin-producing ability of the pancreas decreases.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is more common than type 1 diabetes with about 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes having T2D. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the US population have diabetes.1 More alarming, an estimated 84 million more American adults have prediabetes, which if not treated, will advance to diabetes within five years.1
One particular type of sugar that has attracted a lot of negative attention is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — and for good reason, as multiple studies suggest HFCS can influence diabetes risk. Some research in people who are overweight and obese, for example, suggests regularly consuming drinks sweetened with either fructose, a byproduct of HFCS, or glucose can lead to weight gain, and drinks with fructose in particular may reduce insulin sensitivity and spike blood sugar levels.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), is common in people with type 1 and type 2 DM. Most cases are mild and are not considered medical emergencies. Effects can range from feelings of unease, sweating, trembling, and increased appetite in mild cases to more serious effects such as confusion, changes in behavior such as aggressiveness, seizures, unconsciousness, and (rarely) permanent brain damage or death in severe cases. Moderately low blood sugar may easily be mistaken for drunkenness; rapid breathing and sweating, cold, pale skin are characteristic of low blood sugar but not definitive. Mild to moderate cases are self-treated by eating or drinking something high in sugar. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness and must be treated with intravenous glucose or injections with glucagon.
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Previously, CGMs required frequent calibration with fingerstick glucose testing. Also their results were not accurate enough so that people always had to do a fingerstick to verify a reading on their CGM before calculating a dose of insulin (for example before meals or to correct a high blood sugar). However, recent technological advances have improved CGMs. One professional CGM can be worn for up to 14 days without calibration. Another personal CGM can be used to guide insulin dosing without confirmation by fingerstick glucose. Finally, there are now systems in which the CGM device communicates with insulin pumps to either stop delivery of insulin when blood glucose is dropping (threshold suspend), or to give daily insulin (hybrid closed loop system).
Several tests are helpful in identifying DM. These include tests of fasting plasma glucose levels, casual (randomly assessed) glucose levels, or glycosylated hemoglobin levels. Diabetes is currently established if patients have classic diabetic symptoms and if on two occasions fasting glucose levels exceed 126 mg/dL (> 7 mmol/L), random glucose levels exceed 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L), or a 2-hr oral glucose tolerance test is 200 mg/dL or more. A hemoglobin A1c test that is more than two standard deviations above normal (6.5% or greater) is also diagnostic of the disease.
The treatment of low blood sugar consists of administering a quickly absorbed glucose source. These include glucose containing drinks, such as orange juice, soft drinks (not sugar-free), or glucose tablets in doses of 15-20 grams at a time (for example, the equivalent of half a glass of juice). Even cake frosting applied inside the cheeks can work in a pinch if patient cooperation is difficult. If the individual becomes unconscious, glucagon can be given by intramuscular injection.
Is it your fault for getting type 2 diabetes? No – type 2 diabetes is not a personal failing. It develops through a combination of factors that are still being uncovered and better understood. Lifestyle (food, exercise, stress, sleep) certainly plays a major role, but genetics play a significant role as well. Type 2 diabetes is often described in the media as a result of being overweight, but the relationship is not that simple. Many overweight individuals never get type 2, and some people with type 2 were never overweight, (although obesity is probably an underlying cause of insulin resistance). To make matters worse, when someone gains weight (for whatever reason), the body makes it extremely difficult to lose the new weight and keep it off. If it were just a matter of choice or a bit of willpower, we would probably all be skinny. At its core, type 2 involves two physiological issues: resistance to the insulin made by the person’s beta cells and too little insulin production relative to the amount one needs.
Excess glucose in the blood can damage small blood vessels in the nerves causing a tingling sensation or pain in the fingers, toes and limbs. Nerves that lie outside of the central nervous system may also be damaged, which is referred to as peripheral neuropathy. If nerves of the gastrointestinal tract are affected, this may cause vomiting, constipation and diarrhea.
When there is excess glucose present in the blood, as with type 2 diabetes, the kidneys react by flushing it out of the blood and into the urine. This results in more urine production and the need to urinate more frequently, as well as an increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in men and women. People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to get a UTI as people without the disease, and the risk is higher in women than in men.