The causes of diabetes mellitus are unclear, however, there seem to be both hereditary (genetic factors passed on in families) and environmental factors involved. Research has shown that some people who develop diabetes have common genetic markers. In Type I diabetes, the immune system, the body's defense system against infection, is believed to be triggered by a virus or another microorganism that destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. In Type II diabetes, age, obesity, and family history of diabetes play a role.
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are too high to be considered normal but not high enough to be labeled diabetes. People have prediabetes if their fasting blood glucose level is between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL or if their blood glucose level 2 hours after a glucose tolerance test is between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL. Prediabetes carries a higher risk of future diabetes as well as heart disease. Decreasing body weight by 5 to 10% through diet and exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing future diabetes.
With such a surplus of food nowadays, it's easy to overindulge without physical activity, leading to weight gain and, for some people, eventual Type 2 diabetes. "It's a lack of exercise and still eating like you're 20 years old," says Susan M. De Abate, a nurse and certified diabetes educator and team coordinator of the diabetes education program at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.
As with many conditions, treatment of type 2 diabetes begins with lifestyle changes, particularly in your diet and exercise. If you have type 2 diabetes, speak to your doctor and diabetes educator about an appropriate diet. You may be referred to a dietitian. It is also a good idea to speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise program that is more vigourous than walking to determine how much and what kind of exercise is appropriate.
The woman’s weight may also play a role. Changing hormone levels and weight gain are part of a healthy pregnancy, but both changes make it more difficult for the body to keep up with its need for insulin. This may lead to gestational diabetes. As pregnancy progresses, the placenta also produces insulin-blocking hormones, which might result in a woman’s blood-glucose levels becoming elevated if there isn’t enough insulin to counter this effect.
Weight loss surgery in those with obesity and type two diabetes is often an effective measure. Many are able to maintain normal blood sugar levels with little or no medications following surgery and long-term mortality is decreased. There is, however, a short-term mortality risk of less than 1% from the surgery. The body mass index cutoffs for when surgery is appropriate are not yet clear. It is recommended that this option be considered in those who are unable to get both their weight and blood sugar under control.
Doctors and people with diabetes have observed that infections seem more common if you have diabetes. Research in this area, however, has not proved whether this is entirely true, nor why. It may be that high levels of blood sugar impair your body's natural healing process and your ability to fight infections. For women, bladder and vaginal infections are especially common.
It is clearly established that diabetes mellitus is not a single disease but a genetically heterogeneous group of disorders that share glucose intolerance in common (4–7). The concept of genetic heterogeneity (i.e. that different genetic and/or environmental etiologic factors can result in similar phenotypes) has significantly altered the genetic analysis of this common disorder. Diabetes and glucose intolerance are not diagnostic terms, but, like anemia, simply describe symptoms and/or laboratory abnormalities that can have a number of distinct etiologies.
In people with type 1 diabetes, the symptoms often begin abruptly and dramatically. A serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication in which the body produces excess acid, may quickly develop. In addition to the usual diabetes symptoms of excessive thirst and urination, the initial symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis also include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and—particularly in children—abdominal pain. Breathing tends to become deep and rapid as the body attempts to correct the blood’s acidity (see Acidosis), and the breath smells fruity and like nail polish remover. Without treatment, diabetic ketoacidosis can progress to coma and death, sometimes very quickly.
While there is a strong genetic component to developing this form of diabetes, there are other risk factors - the most significant of which is obesity. There is a direct relationship between the degree of obesity and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and this holds true in children as well as adults. It is estimated that the chance to develop diabetes doubles for every 20% increase over desirable body weight.
There are some interesting developments in blood glucose monitoring including continuous glucose sensors. The new continuous glucose sensor systems involve an implantable cannula placed just under the skin in the abdomen or in the arm. This cannula allows for frequent sampling of blood glucose levels. Attached to this is a transmitter that sends the data to a pager-like device. This device has a visual screen that allows the wearer to see, not only the current glucose reading, but also the graphic trends. In some devices, the rate of change of blood sugar is also shown. There are alarms for low and high sugar levels. Certain models will alarm if the rate of change indicates the wearer is at risk for dropping or rising blood glucose too rapidly. One version is specifically designed to interface with their insulin pumps. In most cases the patient still must manually approve any insulin dose (the pump cannot blindly respond to the glucose information it receives, it can only give a calculated suggestion as to whether the wearer should give insulin, and if so, how much). However, in 2013 the US FDA approved the first artificial pancreas type device, meaning an implanted sensor and pump combination that stops insulin delivery when glucose levels reach a certain low point. All of these devices need to be correlated to fingersticks measurements for a few hours before they can function independently. The devices can then provide readings for 3 to 5 days.
Family or personal history. Your risk increases if you have prediabetes — a precursor to type 2 diabetes — or if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has type 2 diabetes. You're also at greater risk if you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, if you delivered a very large baby or if you had an unexplained stillbirth.
Intensive blood sugar lowering (HbA1c<6%) as opposed to standard blood sugar lowering (HbA1c of 7–7.9%) does not appear to change mortality. The goal of treatment is typically an HbA1c of 7 to 8% or a fasting glucose of less than 7.2 mmol/L (130 mg/dl); however these goals may be changed after professional clinical consultation, taking into account particular risks of hypoglycemia and life expectancy. Despite guidelines recommending that intensive blood sugar control be based on balancing immediate harms with long-term benefits, many people – for example people with a life expectancy of less than nine years who will not benefit, are over-treated.
High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) can lead to a condition called glucose toxicity. This leads to further damage to the pancreas, and the body is less able to produce insulin. Without insulin, glucose levels continue to rise to levels that can cause damage to organs such as the eyes, nerves, and kidneys. These problems are similar to the complications associated with type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes has some connection to your family genes, but that doesn't mean you'll get it if one of your parents had it. "Since not all identical twins get diabetes, we do think that exposure to an additional environmental factor may trigger an immune response that ultimately causes destruction of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas," says Dr. Sarah R. Rettinger, an endocrinologist with Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fiber, non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat can help get you to your goal weight and reduce your waist size and body mass index (BMI). Reducing your intake of sweetened beverages (juices, sodas) is the easiest way to lose weight and reduce blood sugars. If you are someone who has high blood pressure and are salt sensitive, aim to reduce your intake of sodium; do not add salt to your food, read package labels for added sodium, and reduce your intake of fast food and take out. Don't go on a diet. Instead, adapt a healthier way of eating, one that you'll enjoy for a long time.
Weight loss surgery in those who are obese is an effective measure to treat diabetes. Many are able to maintain normal blood sugar levels with little or no medication following surgery and long-term mortality is decreased. There however is some short-term mortality risk of less than 1% from the surgery. The body mass index cutoffs for when surgery is appropriate are not yet clear. It is recommended that this option be considered in those who are unable to get both their weight and blood sugar under control.
Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease that affects more than 9 percent of the U.S. population, or about 29 million people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter — some 8 million people — remain undiagnosed. With complications including nerve damage, kidney damage, poor blood circulation, and even death, it’s important for us all to know the early signs of type 2 diabetes.