Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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.
What is hypoglycemia? A blood sugar level of under 70 mg/dl (3.9 mmol/l) is typically considered hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and can result in irritability, confusion, seizures, and even unconsciousness for extreme lows. To correct hypoglycemia, patients commonly use fast-acting carbohydrates. In extreme cases of severe hypoglycemia, a glucagon injection pen can be used. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of hypoglycemia are:
On behalf of the millions of Americans who live with or are at risk for diabetes, we are committed to helping you understand this chronic disease. Help us set the record straight and educate the world about diabetes and its risk factors by sharing the common questions and answers below. If you're new to type 2 diabetes, join our Living With Type 2 Diabetes program to get more facts.
The good news is that prevention plays an important role in warding off these complications. By maintaining tight control of your blood glucose—and getting it as close to normal as possible—you’ll help your body function in the way that it would if you did not have diabetes. Tight control helps you decrease the chances that your body will experience complications from elevated glucose levels.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus has wide geographic variation in incidence and prevalence.  Annual incidence varies from 0.61 cases per 100,000 population in China to 41.4 cases per 100,000 population in Finland. Substantial variations are observed between nearby countries with differing lifestyles, such as Estonia and Finland, and between genetically similar populations, such as those in Iceland and Norway.
Unlike many health conditions, diabetes is managed mostly by you, with support from your health care team (including your primary care doctor, foot doctor, dentist, eye doctor, registered dietitian nutritionist, diabetes educator, and pharmacist), family, and other important people in your life. Managing diabetes can be challenging, but everything you do to improve your health is worth it!
Most cases of diabetes involve many genes, with each being a small contributor to an increased probability of becoming a type 2 diabetic. If one identical twin has diabetes, the chance of the other developing diabetes within his lifetime is greater than 90%, while the rate for nonidentical siblings is 25–50%. As of 2011, more than 36 genes had been found that contribute to the risk of type 2 diabetes. All of these genes together still only account for 10% of the total heritable component of the disease. The TCF7L2 allele, for example, increases the risk of developing diabetes by 1.5 times and is the greatest risk of the common genetic variants. Most of the genes linked to diabetes are involved in beta cell functions.
Diabetes develops when the body can't make any or enough insulin, and/or when it can't properly use the insulin it makes. For some people with diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin. In these cases, insulin is still produced, but the body does not respond to the effects of insulin as it should. This is called insulin resistance. Whether from not enough insulin or the inability to use insulin properly, the result is high levels of glucose in the blood, or hyperglycemia.
Apart from these medications, treating diabetes effectively means taking a well-rounded approach: You’ll need to eat well, exercise, and manage stress, because all these factors can affect your blood sugar levels. Staying healthy with diabetes also requires caring for yourself — like protecting your feet, practicing oral hygiene, and tending to your mental health.
Patients who suffer from diabetes have a lifelong struggle to attain and maintain blood glucose levels as close to the normal range as possible. With appropriate blood sugar control, the risk of both microvascular (small blood vessel) and neuropathic (nerve) complications is decreased markedly. Additionally, if hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) are treated promptly and aggressively, the risk of cardiovascular complications should decrease as well.
The WHO estimates that diabetes mellitus resulted in 1.5 million deaths in 2012, making it the 8th leading cause of death. However another 2.2 million deaths worldwide were attributable to high blood glucose and the increased risks of cardiovascular disease and other associated complications (e.g. kidney failure), which often lead to premature death and are often listed as the underlying cause on death certificates rather than diabetes. For example, in 2014, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that diabetes resulted in 4.9 million deaths worldwide, using modeling to estimate the total number of deaths that could be directly or indirectly attributed to diabetes.
"Brittle" diabetes, also known as unstable diabetes or labile diabetes, is a term that was traditionally used to describe the dramatic and recurrent swings in glucose levels, often occurring for no apparent reason in insulin-dependent diabetes. This term, however, has no biologic basis and should not be used. Still, type 1 diabetes can be accompanied by irregular and unpredictable high blood sugar levels, frequently with ketosis, and sometimes with serious low blood sugar levels. Other complications include an impaired counterregulatory response to low blood sugar, infection, gastroparesis (which leads to erratic absorption of dietary carbohydrates), and endocrinopathies (e.g., Addison's disease). These phenomena are believed to occur no more frequently than in 1% to 2% of persons with type 1 diabetes.
2.Retinopathy - Diabetes may cause blood vessels in the retina (the light sensitive lining of the eye) to become leaky, blocked, or grow abnormally [Figure 1]. Retinopathy is rare before the age of 10 and the risk increases with the length of time a person has diabetes. Treatments such as laser, injections in the eye, or other procedures may be helpful to prevent visual loss or restore sight. The longer a patient has diabetes, the greater chance of developing an eye problem. All patients with diabetes are at risk for developing retinopathy, but the risk is higher for patients with worse blood sugar control. Early retinopathy may have no symptoms, but early treatment is essential to prevent any loss of vision.
Individuals with diabetes have two times the likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection compared to individuals without the disease. If you find yourself getting up every couple of hours in the middle of the night, and you seem to be expelling a lot more urine than you used to, talk to your doctor and find out whether or not you have diabetes.
When your blood sugar is out of whack, you just don’t feel well, says Cypress, and might become more short-tempered. In fact, high blood sugar can mimic depression-like symptoms. “You feel very tired, you don’t feel like doing anything, you don’t want to go out, you just want to sleep,” Cypress says. She’ll see patients who think they need to be treated for depression, but then experience mood improvement after their blood sugar normalizes.
Alternatively, if you hit it really hard for 20 minutes or so, you may never enter the fat burning phase of exercise. Consequently, your body becomes more efficient at storing sugar (in the form of glycogen) in your liver and muscles, where it is needed, as glycogen is the muscles’ primary fuel source. If your body is efficient at storing and using of glycogen, it means that it is not storing fat.
Recognizing the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes is critical. Although Type 1 develops gradually, as the body’s insulin production decreases, blood glucose levels can become dangerously high once insulin production is outpaced. Symptoms may develop rapidly and can be mistaken for other illnesses such as the flu and a delayed diagnosis can have serious consequences.
Because type 2 diabetes is linked to high levels of sugar in the blood, it may seem logical to assume that eating too much sugar is the cause of the disease. But of course, it’s not that simple. “This has been around for years, this idea that eating too much sugar causes diabetes — but the truth is, type 2 diabetes is a multifactorial disease with many different types of causes,” says Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, a nutrition coach in Prescott, Arizona, and a medical reviewer for Everyday Health. “Type 2 diabetes is really complex.”
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) resembles type 2 DM in several respects, involving a combination of relatively inadequate insulin secretion and responsiveness. It occurs in about 2–10% of all pregnancies and may improve or disappear after delivery. However, after pregnancy approximately 5–10% of women with GDM are found to have DM, most commonly type 2. GDM is fully treatable, but requires careful medical supervision throughout the pregnancy. Management may include dietary changes, blood glucose monitoring, and in some cases, insulin may be required.
The good news is that behavior still seems to help shape whether someone with the genetic disposition actually develops type 2—and that changes in diet and exercise can sometimes be enough to ward off the disease. "People sometimes have the misconception that if we say something is genetic, then they can't do anything about preventing diabetes and its complications," says Hanis. But he notes that in a landmark study, lifestyle interventions prevented or delayed type 2 in nearly 60 percent of people at high risk. "If we focus on changing the environment, we can prevent diabetes," he says. "As we understand the genetics, we can prevent more of it."
All you need to know about insulin sensitivity factor Insulin sensitivity factor is a measurement that describes how blood sugar levels are affected by taking 1 unit of insulin. It can help a person with type 1 diabetes regulate their blood sugar levels. Learn more about what insulin sensitivity factor is, who should test and when, and what the results mean. Read now
What are symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children? Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common in children, and this is linked to a rise in obesity. However, the condition can be difficult to detect in children because it develops gradually. Symptoms, treatment, and prevention of type 2 diabetes are similar in children and adults. Learn more here. Read now