Blood travels throughout your body, and when too much glucose (sugar) is present, it disrupts the normal environment that the organ systems of your body function within. In turn, your body starts to exhibit signs that things are not working properly inside—those are the symptoms of diabetes people sometimes experience. If this problem—caused by a variety of factors—is left untreated, it can lead to a number of damaging complications such as heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and blood vessel disease that may require an amputation, nerve damage, and impotence in men.
Janis McWilliams, RN, MSN, CDE, BC-ADM, responds: Yes, in type 1 diabetes in particular, the onset of symptoms like frequent urination and extreme thirst can be very sudden. In type 2 diabetes, the symptoms tend to come about more gradually, and sometimes there are no signs at all. People who have symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately for an accurate diagnosis. Keep in mind that these symptoms could signal other problems, too.
How is it treated? There is no uniform therapy for type 2 diabetes treatment, which depends on the individual person and his or her stage of type 2 diabetes. To learn more about individualization of therapy, please read our patient guide. That said, the ADA and EASD have created treatment recommendation guidelines for type 2 diabetes progression. In all cases, healthy eating, exercise, and weight management are key to effective type 2 diabetes management. As type 2 diabetes progresses, patients may need to add one or more drugs to their treatment regimen.
So what determines where fat is stored, and thus a person's propensity for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes? Well, just having more fat in the body increases the risk that some of it will get misplaced. But exercise may also have a role in fat placement. Exercise is known to reduce insulin resistance; one way it may do this is by burning fat out of the muscle. Because of this, getting enough exercise may stave off type 2 in some cases. Genes may also help orchestrate the distribution of fat in the body, which illustrates how lifestyle and genetics interact.
When you have Type 2 diabetes, you may start out with something called insulin resistance. This means your cells do not respond well to the insulin you are making. "Insulin levels may be quite high, especially in the early stages of the disease. Eventually, your pancreas may not be able to keep up, and insulin secretion goes down," Rettinger explains. Insulin resistance becomes more common as you put on more weight, especially weight around your belly.
Diabetic ketoacidosis can be caused by infections, stress, or trauma, all of which may increase insulin requirements. In addition, missing doses of insulin is also an obvious risk factor for developing diabetic ketoacidosis. Urgent treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis involves the intravenous administration of fluid, electrolytes, and insulin, usually in a hospital intensive care unit. Dehydration can be very severe, and it is not unusual to need to replace 6-7 liters of fluid when a person presents in diabetic ketoacidosis. Antibiotics are given for infections. With treatment, abnormal blood sugar levels, ketone production, acidosis, and dehydration can be reversed rapidly, and patients can recover remarkably well.
Aspirin should be used as secondary prophylaxis in all diabetic people with evidence of macrovascular disease, and it should be strongly considered as primary prevention in diabetic subjects with other risk factors for macrovascular disease, such as hypertension, cigarette smoking, dyslipidemia, obesity, and albuminuria (macro or micro).228 Because of the platelet defects associated with diabetes, it is recommended that the dose of aspirin should be 300 mg per day,228–230 although the American Diabetes Association’s position statement (http://www.diabetes.org/DiabetesCare/supplement198/s45.htm) advocates a dose of 81 to 325 mg enteric-coated aspirin per day. If the patient cannot tolerate aspirin, then clopidogrel231 can be used.
Prevention and treatment involve maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical exercise, a normal body weight, and avoiding use of tobacco. Control of blood pressure and maintaining proper foot care are important for people with the disease. Type 1 DM must be managed with insulin injections. Type 2 DM may be treated with medications with or without insulin. Insulin and some oral medications can cause low blood sugar. Weight loss surgery in those with obesity is sometimes an effective measure in those with type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after the birth of the baby.
To measure blood glucose levels, a blood sample is usually taken after people have fasted overnight. However, it is possible to take blood samples after people have eaten. Some elevation of blood glucose levels after eating is normal, but even after a meal the levels should not be very high. Fasting blood glucose levels should never be higher than 125 mg/dL. Even after eating, blood glucose levels should not be higher than 199 mg/dL.
Insulin is released into the blood by beta cells (β-cells), found in the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, in response to rising levels of blood glucose, typically after eating. Insulin is used by about two-thirds of the body's cells to absorb glucose from the blood for use as fuel, for conversion to other needed molecules, or for storage. Lower glucose levels result in decreased insulin release from the beta cells and in the breakdown of glycogen to glucose. This process is mainly controlled by the hormone glucagon, which acts in the opposite manner to insulin.
Management. There is no cure for diabetes; the goal of treatment is to maintain blood glucose and lipid levels within normal limits and to prevent complications. In general, good control is achieved when the following occur: fasting plasma glucose is within a specific range (set by health care providers and the individual), glycosylated hemoglobin tests show that blood sugar levels have stayed within normal limits from one testing period to the next, the patient's weight is normal, blood lipids remain within normal limits, and the patient has a sense of health and well-being.
From a dental perspective, pregnancy leads to hormonal changes that increase the mother’s risk of developing gingivitis and gingival lesions called pregnancy tumors (see Right). Not surprisingly, poor glycemic control further adds to this risk. Therefore, it is imperative that if you become pregnant, you should promptly see your dentist. He or she will work with you to ensure that your dental self-care regimen is maximized to prevent or control your dental disease. Additional Resources on Diabetes and Oral Health National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research www.nidcr.nih.gov American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org American Dental Association www.dental.org American Academy of Periodontology www.perio.org The Diabetes Monitor www.diabetesmonitor.com David Mendosa www.mendosa.com Diatribe www.diatribe.us The information contained in this monograph is for educational purposes only. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have or suspect you may have a health concern, consult your professional health care provider. Reliance on any information provided in this monograph is solely at your own risk.
American Diabetes Association Joslin Diabetes Center Mayo Clinic International Diabetes Federation Canadian Diabetes Association National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Diabetes Daily American Heart Association Diabetes Forecast Diabetic Living American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists European Association for the Study of Diabetes
While it's conceivable that scientists will isolate a single factor as causing type 1 and type 2, the much more likely outcome is that there is more than one cause. Each person seems to take a unique path in developing diabetes. Someday, doctors may be able to assess an individual's genetic risk for diabetes, allowing him or her to dodge the particular environmental factors that would trigger the disease. And perhaps if the baffling question of why a person gets diabetes can be put to rest, the answer will also offer a cure for the disease.
Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is believed to result from autoimmune, environmental, and/or genetic factors. Whatever the cause, the end result is destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, a dramatic decrease in the secretion of insulin, and hyperglycemia. Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is presumably heterogeneous in origin. It is associated with older age, obesity, a family history of diabetes, and ethnicity (genetic components). The vast majority of those with non-insulin-dependent diabetes are overweight Kahn (2003). This form of the disorder has a much slower rate of progression than insulin-dependent diabetes. Over time the ability to respond to insulin decreases, resulting in increased levels of blood glucose. The pancreatic secretion of insulin increases in an attempt to compensate for the elevated levels of glucose. If the condition is untreated, the pancreatic production of insulin decreases and may even cease.
If, on the other hand, you are already starting to develop complications or your medication regimen has changed because your blood sugars are getting higher, remember that diabetes is a progressive disease—and sometimes these things just happen without any influence from your own actions. As you age, beta cells in the pancreas get tired and stop working. If you've had diabetes for 20 years and now need to start insulin, for example, it doesn't mean you've failed. It just means that your body needs some help. Make sure you continue to receive education and that you continue to have someone to lean on when you need it, and keep the lines of communication open with your doctor. It truly can make a difference.
The classic oral glucose tolerance test measures blood glucose levels five times over a period of three hours. Some physicians simply get a baseline blood sample followed by a sample two hours after drinking the glucose solution. In a person without diabetes, the glucose levels rise and then fall quickly. In someone with diabetes, glucose levels rise higher than normal and fail to come back down as fast.
Type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes mellitus, is likely one of the better-known chronic diseases in the world — and that's no surprise. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest in the United States alone, 30.3 million people, or 9.4 percent of the U.S. population, has diabetes, and the majority of these people have type 2. (1)
Type 2 diabetes primarily occurs as a result of obesity and lack of exercise. Some people are more genetically at risk than others. Type 2 diabetes makes up about 90% of cases of diabetes, with the other 10% due primarily to diabetes mellitus type 1 and gestational diabetes. In diabetes mellitus type 1 there is a lower total level of insulin to control blood glucose, due to an autoimmune induced loss of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Diagnosis of diabetes is by blood tests such as fasting plasma glucose, oral glucose tolerance test, or glycated hemoglobin (A1C).
Although some people with this type of diabetes are thin, the majority of people (90%) are overweight. Losing weight, even 2 kg to 5 kg (5 lbs to 10 lbs) can help lower blood glucose levels. For many people, following a healthy diet and an exercise program may be all that is needed to help control glucose levels. For others, healthy eating and exercise alone aren't enough to lower blood glucose levels.
Some risks of the keto diet include low blood sugar, negative medication interactions, and nutrient deficiencies. (People who should avoid the keto diet include those with kidney damage or disease, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and those with or at a heightened risk for heart disease due to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or family history. (40)
More common in adults, type 2 diabetes increasingly affects children as childhood obesity increases. There's no cure for type 2 diabetes, but you may be able to manage the condition by eating well, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight. If diet and exercise aren't enough to manage your blood sugar well, you also may need diabetes medications or insulin therapy.
At the same time that the body is trying to get rid of glucose from the blood, the cells are starving for glucose and sending signals to the body to eat more food, thus making patients extremely hungry. To provide energy for the starving cells, the body also tries to convert fats and proteins to glucose. The breakdown of fats and proteins for energy causes acid compounds called ketones to form in the blood. Ketones also will be excreted in the urine. As ketones build up in the blood, a condition called ketoacidosis can occur. This condition can be life threatening if left untreated, leading to coma and death.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). If your blood sugar level drops below your target range, it's known as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Your blood sugar level can drop for many reasons, including skipping a meal, inadvertently taking more medication than usual or getting more physical activity than normal. Low blood sugar is most likely if you take glucose-lowering medications that promote the secretion of insulin or if you're taking insulin.
Get to Know Your Medications: If you have diabetes, it is important to know and understand what your medications do. This can help to keep blood sugars controlled and prevent low and high blood sugars. Certain medicines need to be taken with food, or they will cause your blood sugar will drop. There are so many diabetes medications out there. Being your own advocate can help you. Make sure to tell your doctor if your medications are too expensive or if they are causing any side effects. If your medication regimen is not working for you, odds are your doctor can find a new medicine that might work better.
The brain depends on glucose as a fuel. As glucose levels drop below 65 mg/dL (3.2 mmol/L) counterregulatory hormones (eg, glucagon, cortisol, epinephrine) are released, and symptoms of hypoglycemia develop. These symptoms include sweatiness, shaking, confusion, behavioral changes, and, eventually, coma when blood glucose levels fall below 30-40 mg/dL.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus is predominantly a disease of the young, usually developing before 20 years of age. Overall, type I DM makes up approximately 15% of all cases of diabetes. It develops in approximately 1 in 600 children and is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. The incidence is relatively low for children under the age of 5, increases between 5 and 15, and then tapers off.
Type 1 diabetes in pediatric patients has been linked to changes in cognition and brain structure, with a study by Siller et al finding lower volume in the left temporal-parietal-occipital cortex in young patients with type 1 diabetes than in controls. The study also indicated that in pediatric patients, higher severity of type 1 diabetes presentation correlates with greater structural differences in the brain at about 3 months following diagnosis. The investigators found that among study patients with type 1 diabetes, an association existed between the presence of diabetic ketoacidosis at presentation and reduced radial, axial, and mean diffusivity in the major white matter tracts on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In those with higher glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, hippocampal, thalamic, and cerebellar white matter volumes were lower, as was right posterior parietal cortical thickness, while right occipital cortical thickness was greater. Patients in the study were aged 7-17 years. 
In general, women live longer than men do because they have a lower risk of heart disease, but when women develop diabetes, their risk for heart disease skyrockets, and death by heart failure is more likely in women than in men. Another study also found that in people with diabetes, heart attacks are more often fatal for women than they are for men. Other examples of how diabetes affects women differently than men are: