Type 1 diabetes mellitus is characterized by loss of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreatic islets, leading to insulin deficiency. This type can be further classified as immune-mediated or idiopathic. The majority of type 1 diabetes is of the immune-mediated nature, in which a T cell-mediated autoimmune attack leads to the loss of beta cells and thus insulin. It causes approximately 10% of diabetes mellitus cases in North America and Europe. Most affected people are otherwise healthy and of a healthy weight when onset occurs. Sensitivity and responsiveness to insulin are usually normal, especially in the early stages. Type 1 diabetes can affect children or adults, but was traditionally termed "juvenile diabetes" because a majority of these diabetes cases were found in children.
If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. They are no more "off limits" to people with diabetes than they are to people without diabetes. The key to sweets is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions so you focus your meal on more healthful foods.
Diabetes means your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. Without insulin, too much glucose stays in your blood. Over time, high blood glucose can lead to serious problems with your heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can be caused by too much insulin, too little food (or eating too late to coincide with the action of the insulin), alcohol consumption, or increased exercise. A patient with symptoms of hypoglycemia may be hungry, cranky, confused, and tired. The patient may become sweaty and shaky. Left untreated, the patient can lose consciousness or have a seizure. This condition is sometimes called an insulin reaction and should be treated by giving the patient something sweet to eat or drink like a candy, sugar cubes, juice, or another high sugar snack.
A second oral agent of another class or insulin may be added if metformin is not sufficient after three months. Other classes of medications include: sulfonylureas, thiazolidinediones, dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors, SGLT2 inhibitors, and glucagon-like peptide-1 analogs. As of 2015 there was no significant difference between these agents. A 2018 review found that SGLT2 inhibitors may be better than glucagon-like peptide-1 analogs or dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors.
Good metabolic control can delay the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy. Loss of vision and blindness in persons with diabetes can be prevented by early detection and treatment of vision-threatening retinopathy: regular eye examinations and timely intervention with laser treatment, or through surgery in cases of advanced retinopathy. There is evidence that, even in developed countries, a large proportion of those in need is not receiving such care due to lack of public and professional awareness, as well as an absence of treatment facilities. In developing countries, in many of which diabetes is now common, such care is inaccessible to the majority of the population.
Medications used to treat diabetes do so by lowering blood sugar levels. There is broad consensus that when people with diabetes maintain tight glucose control (also called "tight glycemic control") -- keeping the glucose levels in their blood within normal ranges - that they experience fewer complications like kidney problems and eye problems. There is however debate as to whether this is cost effective for people later in life.
1. Monitoring of blood glucose status. In the past, urine testing was an integral part of the management of diabetes, but it has largely been replaced in recent years by self monitoring of blood glucose. Reasons for this are that blood testing is more accurate, glucose in the urine shows up only after the blood sugar level is high, and individual renal thresholds vary greatly and can change when certain medications are taken. As a person grows older and the kidney is less able to eliminate sugar in the urine, the renal threshold rises and less sugar is spilled into the urine. The position statement of the American Diabetes Association on Tests of Glycemia in Diabetes notes that urine testing still plays a role in monitoring in type 1 and gestational diabetes, and in pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes, as a way to test for ketones. All people with diabetes should test for ketones during times of acute illness or stress and when blood glucose levels are consistently elevated.
Many studies have shown that awareness about the diabetes and its complications is poor among the general population specially in the rural areas6,7. There is an urgent need to create awareness among the population regarding diabetes and about the serious consequences of this chronic disorder. Epidemiological data from India have shown the presence of a number of risk factors which can be easily identified by simple non-invasive risk scores8,9. The major risk factors are listed in Box 1.
Is type 2 diabetes serious? Type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence, but it is a very serious disease that demands attention and careful monitoring. There is no such thing as ‘mild’ diabetes. Elevated glucose levels can damage the nervous system, blood vessels, eyes, heart, and kidneys. These complications really impact quality of life (through blindness, amputations, dialysis etc). They also significantly increase the chance of a stroke or heart attack. Managing blood glucose levels immediately, along with other health risk factors (e.g., cholesterol, blood pressure, weight), is necessary for preventing these complications. Losing even a small amount of weight and keeping it off can also improve glucose control as well as have other clinical benefits (read more tips on managing diet and exercise below for more on weight loss). Keep in mind that better diabetes management also has benefits in the here and now – mood and energy levels are adversely affected when your glucose levels are high.
Nerve damage (neuropathy). Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish your nerves, especially in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. Poorly controlled blood sugar can eventually cause you to lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. Damage to the nerves that control digestion can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, erectile dysfunction may be an issue.
People with these risk factors should be screened for diabetes at least once every three years. Diabetes risk can be estimated using online risk calculators. Doctors may measure fasting blood glucose levels and hemoglobin A1C level, or do an oral glucose tolerance test. If the test results are on the border between normal and abnormal, doctors do the screening tests more often, at least once a year.
Home blood sugar (glucose) testing is an important part of controlling blood sugar. One important goal of diabetes treatment is to keep the blood glucose levels near the normal range of 70 to 120 mg/dl before meals and under 140 mg/dl at two hours after eating. Blood glucose levels are usually tested before and after meals, and at bedtime. The blood sugar level is typically determined by pricking a fingertip with a lancing device and applying the blood to a glucose meter, which reads the value. There are many meters on the market, for example, Accu-Check Advantage, One Touch Ultra, Sure Step and Freestyle. Each meter has its own advantages and disadvantages (some use less blood, some have a larger digital readout, some take a shorter time to give you results, etc.). The test results are then used to help patients make adjustments in medications, diets, and physical activities.
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.