About 40% of diabetes sufferers require oral agents for satisfactory blood glucose control, and some 40% need insulin injections. This hormone was isolated by Frederic Banting and Charles Best in 1921 in Canada. It revolutionized the treatment of diabetes and prevention of its complications, transforming Type 1 diabetes from a fatal disease to one in which long-term survival became achievable.
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. With type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood.
Diabetes mellitus is linked with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, poor blood circulation to the legs and damage to the eyes, feet and kidneys. Early diagnosis and strict control of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help to prevent or delay these complications associated with diabetes. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (regular exercise, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight) is important in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Excessive thirst typically goes hand-in-hand with increased urination. As your body pulls water out of the tissues to dilute your blood and to rid your body of sugar through the urine, the urge to drink increases. Many people describe this thirst as an unquenchable one. To stay hydrated, you drink excessive amounts of liquids. And if those liquids contain simple sugars (soda, sweet iced tea, lemonade, or juice, for example) your sugars will skyrocket even higher.
Over time, a prolonged exposure to high blood sugar can damage the nerves throughout the body — a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Some people may not have any symptoms of the damage, while others may notice numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities. “At the beginning, [diabetic neuropathy] usually starts in the feet and then it progresses upward,” says Dr. Ovalle. Although most common in people who have had type 2 diabetes for 25 years or more, it can occur in people who have prediabetes as well. In some studies, almost 50 percent of unexplained peripheral neuropathy [in the extremities], whether painful or otherwise, turns out to be caused by prediabetes or diabetes, says Dr. Einhorn.
To treat diabetic retinopathy, a laser is used to destroy and prevent the recurrence of the development of these small aneurysms and brittle blood vessels. Approximately 50% of patients with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy after 10 years of diabetes, and 80% retinopathy after 15 years of the disease. Poor control of blood sugar and blood pressure further aggravates eye disease in diabetes.
Diet, exercise, and education are the cornerstones of treatment of diabetes and often the first recommendations for people with mild diabetes. Weight loss is important for people who are overweight. People who continue to have elevated blood glucose levels despite lifestyle changes, or have very high blood glucose levels and people with type 1 diabetes (no matter their blood glucose levels) also require drugs.
Awareness about the signs and symptoms and periodic screening especially in the presence of risk factors and warning signs of diabetes, would go a long way in preventing new cases of diabetes by providing an opportunity to intervene at the stage of prediabetes. It is evident that diabetes can be prevented among prediabetic individuals by improvements in physical activity and diet habits. Such strategies will also prevent development of diabetic complications to a great extent. Patient empowerment is vital in diabetes management. This can be done through patient education and sharing information on management and preventive aspects of diabetes.
There’s no cure for type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, so it must be regularly injected into your body. Some people take injections into the soft tissue, such as the stomach, arm, or buttocks, several times per day. Other people use insulin pumps. Insulin pumps supply a steady amount of insulin into the body through a small tube.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus (non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus [NIDDM]) is a heterogeneous disorder. Most patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus have insulin resistance, and their beta cells lack the ability to overcome this resistance.  Although this form of diabetes was previously uncommon in children, in some countries, 20% or more of new patients with diabetes in childhood and adolescence have type 2 diabetes mellitus, a change associated with increased rates of obesity. Other patients may have inherited disorders of insulin release, leading to maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) or congenital diabetes. [7, 8, 9] This topic addresses only type 1 diabetes mellitus. (See Etiology and Epidemiology.)
A number of studies have looked for relationships between sugar and diabetes risk. A 2017 meta-analysis, based on nine reports of 15 cohort studies including 251,261 participants, found no significant effect of total sugars on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.7 Those consuming the most sugar actually had a 9 percent lower risk of developing diabetes, compared with those consuming the least sugar, although the difference was not statistically significant (meaning that it could have been a chance result). Similarly, fructose was not significantly associated with diabetes risk. Sucrose appeared to have a significant protective association. Those consuming the most sucrose had 11 percent less risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared with those consuming the least.
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.
If you recognize any of the symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. A simple in-office test for sugar in the urine is used for diagnosis. If that test is positive, then a drop of blood from the fingertip will confirm diabetes. Every day, thousands of adults and children around the world are diagnosed, but many go undetected. Early diagnosis cannot prevent Type 1, but it can head off potentially devastating, even fatal, health concerns.
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.
The definition of a genetic disease is a disorder or condition caused by abnormalities in a person's genome. Some types of genetic inheritance include single inheritance, including cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Marfan syndrome, and hemochromatosis. Other types of genetic diseases include multifactorial inheritance. Still other types of genetic diseases include chromosome abnormalities (for example, Turner syndrome, and Klinefelter syndrome), and mitochondrial inheritance (for example, epilepsy and dementia).
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
To explain what hemoglobin A1c is, think in simple terms. Sugar sticks, and when it's around for a long time, it's harder to get it off. In the body, sugar sticks too, particularly to proteins. The red blood cells that circulate in the body live for about three months before they die off. When sugar sticks to these hemoglobin proteins in these cells, it is known as glycosylated hemoglobin or hemoglobin A1c (HBA1c). Measurement of HBA1c gives us an idea of how much sugar is present in the bloodstream for the preceding three months. In most labs, the normal range is 4%-5.9 %. In poorly controlled diabetes, its 8.0% or above, and in well controlled patients it's less than 7.0% (optimal is <6.5%). The benefits of measuring A1c is that is gives a more reasonable and stable view of what's happening over the course of time (three months), and the value does not vary as much as finger stick blood sugar measurements. There is a direct correlation between A1c levels and average blood sugar levels as follows.
Insulin is needed to allow glucose to pass from the blood into most of the body cells. Only the cells of the brain and central nervous system can use glucose from the blood in the absence of insulin. Without insulin, most body cells metabolize substances other than glucose for energy. However, fat metabolism in the absence of glucose metabolism, creates ketone bodies which are poisonous and their build up is associated with hyperglycemic coma. In the absence of sufficient insulin, unmetabolized glucose builds up in the blood. Water is drawn from body cells by osmosis to dilute the highly concentrated blood, and is then excreted along with much of the glucose, once the renal threshold for glucose (usually 10 mmol/L) is exceeded. Dehydration follows.
Most people with diabetes should keep a record of their blood glucose levels and report them to their doctor or nurse for advice in adjusting the dose of insulin or the oral antihyperglycemic drug. Many people can learn to adjust the insulin dose on their own as necessary. Some people who have mild or early type 2 diabetes that is well-controlled with one or two drugs may be able to monitor their fingerstick glucose levels relatively infrequently.
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.
Exposure to certain viral infections (mumps and Coxsackie viruses) or other environmental toxins may serve to trigger abnormal antibody responses that cause damage to the pancreas cells where insulin is made. Some of the antibodies seen in type 1 diabetes include anti-islet cell antibodies, anti-insulin antibodies and anti-glutamic decarboxylase antibodies. These antibodies can be detected in the majority of patients, and may help determine which individuals are at risk for developing type 1 diabetes.
Some people who have type 2 diabetes can achieve their target blood sugar levels with diet and exercise alone, but many also need diabetes medications or insulin therapy. The decision about which medications are best depends on many factors, including your blood sugar level and any other health problems you have. Your doctor might even combine drugs from different classes to help you control your blood sugar in several different ways.
Part of a treatment plan for diabetes will involve learning about diabetes, how to manage it, and how to prevent complications. Your doctor, diabetes educator, or other health care professional will help you learn what you need to know so you are able to manage your diabetes as effectively as possible. Keep in mind that learning about diabetes and its treatment will take time. Involving family members or other people who are significant in your life can also help you manage your diabetes.
You should expect your dentist to inquire about how you monitor your blood sugar and your current status (e.g. most recent HbA1c, medication profile). For most routine dental procedures (e.g. examinations, simple fillings, routine cleanings), no special alterations in the delivery of dental care are necessary. However, more involved procedures, such as extensive surgery or treatment of serious infection, may interfere with your normal diabetes management. For such cases, your dentist will work with your physician to ensure the most appropriate approach to care is undertaken. For example, if you need a surgical procedure that will temporarily interfere with your ability to eat, special modifications regarding your nutrition and medication dosing may be prescribed. Finally, if you notice any unusual changes in your mouth (e.g. swelling, pain, red areas) you should see your dentist as soon as possible. These changes may indicate the presence of an infection that may compromise your normal blood sugar control and lead to a worsening of your ability to fight infection. As a result, your infection could become more difficult to treat.
Learning about the disease and actively participating in the treatment is important, since complications are far less common and less severe in people who have well-managed blood sugar levels. The goal of treatment is an HbA1C level of 6.5%, but should not be lower than that, and may be set higher. Attention is also paid to other health problems that may accelerate the negative effects of diabetes. These include smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, obesity, high blood pressure, and lack of regular exercise. Specialized footwear is widely used to reduce the risk of ulceration, or re-ulceration, in at-risk diabetic feet. Evidence for the efficacy of this remains equivocal, however.
A metabolic disease in which carbohydrate use is reduced and that of lipid and protein enhanced; it is caused by an absolute or relative deficiency of insulin and is characterized, in more severe cases, by chronic hyperglycemia, glycosuria, water and electrolyte loss, ketoacidosis, and coma; long-term complications include neuropathy, retinopathy, nephropathy, generalized degenerative changes in large and small blood vessels, and increased susceptibility to infection.
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When diabetes occurs in women during pregnancy, it is called gestational diabetes. It usually is diagnosed between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. Like in type 1 and type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels become too high. When women are pregnant, more glucose is needed to nourish the developing baby. The body needs more insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. In some women, the body does not produce enough insulin to meet this need, and blood sugar levels rise, resulting in gestational diabetes.