Nerve damage from diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy and is also caused by disease of small blood vessels. In essence, the blood flow to the nerves is limited, leaving the nerves without blood flow, and they get damaged or die as a result (a term known as ischemia). Symptoms of diabetic nerve damage include numbness, burning, and aching of the feet and lower extremities. When the nerve disease causes a complete loss of sensation in the feet, patients may not be aware of injuries to the feet, and fail to properly protect them. Shoes or other protection should be worn as much as possible. Seemingly minor skin injuries should be attended to promptly to avoid serious infections. Because of poor blood circulation, diabetic foot injuries may not heal. Sometimes, minor foot injuries can lead to serious infection, ulcers, and even gangrene, necessitating surgical amputation of toes, feet, and other infected parts.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose), is too high (hyperglycemia). Glucose is what the body uses for energy, and the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin that helps convert the glucose from the food you eat into energy. When the body either does not produce enough insulin, does not produce any at all, or your body becomes resistant to the insulin, the glucose does not reach your cells to be used for energy. This results in the health condition termed diabetes.
Lose Weight: If you are overweight, losing weight can help your body use insulin. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes lose about 7 percent of their body weight, which should improve the way your body uses insulin and reduces insulin resistance. In addition, weight loss can help lower blood pressure, reduce joint pain, increase energy, and reduce sleep apnea and cholesterol. It can also reduce your risk of other diseases, including heart disease.
Some older people cannot control what they eat because someone else is cooking for them—at home or in a nursing home or other institution. When people with diabetes do not do their own cooking, the people who shop and prepare meals for them must also understand the diet that is needed. Older people and their caregivers usually benefit from meeting with a dietitian to develop a healthy, feasible eating plan.
Glucagon is a hormone that causes the release of glucose from the liver (for example, it promotes gluconeogenesis). Glucagon can be lifesaving and every patient with diabetes who has a history of hypoglycemia (particularly those on insulin) should have a glucagon kit. Families and friends of those with diabetes need to be taught how to administer glucagon, since obviously the patients will not be able to do it themselves in an emergency situation. Another lifesaving device that should be mentioned is very simple; a medic-alert bracelet should be worn by all patients with diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that blood sugars be 80mg/dL-130mg/dL before meals and less than or equal to 180mg/dL two hours after meals. Blood sugar targets are individualized based on a variety of factors such as age, length of diagnosis, if you have other health issues, etc. For example, if you are an elderly person, your targets maybe a bit higher than someone else. Ask your physician what targets are right for you.
Type 2 (formerly called 'adult-onset' or 'non insulin-dependent') diabetes results when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly (this is also referred to as ‘insulin resistance’). This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are over 40 years of age, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes, although today it is increasingly found in younger people.
If the amount of insulin available is insufficient, or if cells respond poorly to the effects of insulin (insulin insensitivity or insulin resistance), or if the insulin itself is defective, then glucose will not be absorbed properly by the body cells that require it, and it will not be stored appropriately in the liver and muscles. The net effect is persistently high levels of blood glucose, poor protein synthesis, and other metabolic derangements, such as acidosis.
A second theory, dubbed the hygiene hypothesis, blames the rise of type 1 on a society that's too clean. Good housekeeping and hygiene habits mean far fewer interactions with germs, which in turn may foster an immune system prone to going awry. "In a developing country, you have more infectious disease. This is associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes," says Li Wen, MD, PhD, an immunologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. In her lab, rodents raised in hyper-clean environments are more likely to get type 1 than those reared in dirtier cages.
Know Your Numbers: Knowing your ABCs—A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol—are important in reducing your risk for diabetes and keeping your diabetes in good control. If you are someone with diabetes who has elevated blood pressure or cholesterol, you are increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Your physician will give you your A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol targets. Make sure you pay attention to them and understand what they mean and why they are important.
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.
When you have diabetes, your body becomes less efficient at breaking food down into sugar, so you have more sugar sitting in your bloodstream, says Dobbins. “Your body gets rid of it by flushing it out in the urine.” So going to the bathroom a lot could be one of the diabetes symptoms you’re missing. Most patients aren’t necessarily aware of how often they use the bathroom, says Dr. Cypess. “When we ask about it, we often hear, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I’m going more often than I used to,’” he says. But one red flag is whether the need to urinate keeps you up at night. Once or twice might be normal, but if it’s affecting your ability to sleep, that could be a diabetes symptom to pay attention to. Make sure you know these diabetes myths that could sabotage your health.
In this health topic, we explain the dangers of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar levels, and diabetes. Hyperglycemia causes many of the warning signs of diabetes listed above. Hyperglycemia may be caused by skipping or forgetting your insulin or diabetes medicine, eating too many grams of carbs for the amount of insulin administered, simply eating too many grams of carbs in general, or from stress or infections.