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.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system, the body’s system for fighting infection, attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Scientists think type 1 diabetes is caused by genes and environmental factors, such as viruses, that might trigger the disease. Studies such as TrialNet are working to pinpoint causes of type 1 diabetes and possible ways to prevent or slow the disease.
Diabetes is among the leading causes of kidney failure, but its frequency varies between populations and is also related to the severity and duration of the disease. Several measures to slow down the progress of renal damage have been identified. They include control of high blood glucose, control of high blood pressure, intervention with medication in the early stage of kidney damage, and restriction of dietary protein. Screening and early detection of diabetic kidney disease are an important means of prevention.

WELL-CONTROLLED DIABETES MELLITUS: Daily blood sugar abstracted from the records of a patient whose DM is well controlled (hemoglobin A1c=6.4). The average capillary blood glucose level is 104 mg/dL, and the standard deviation is 19. Sixty-five percent of the readings are between 90 and 140 mg/dL; the lowest blood sugar is 67 mg/dL (on April 15) and the highest is about 190 (on March 21).
Along with following your diabetes care plan, you may need diabetes medicines, which may include pills or medicines you inject under your skin, such as insulin. Over time, you may need more than one diabetes medicine to manage your blood glucose. Even if you don’t take insulin, you may need it at special times, such as during pregnancy or if you are in the hospital. You also may need medicines for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other conditions.
Having diabetes requires life-long treatment and follow-up by health professionals. Diabetes can be linked to damage of the eyes, kidneys and feet. It is also associated with increased risk of strokes, heart attacks and poor blood circulation to the legs. Medical care aims to minimise these risks by controlling diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and screening for possible complications caused by the diabetes. 

In autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly manufactures antibodies and inflammatory cells that are directed against and cause damage to patients' own body tissues. In persons with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for insulin production, are attacked by the misdirected immune system. It is believed that the tendency to develop abnormal antibodies in type 1 diabetes is, in part, genetically inherited, though the details are not fully understood.

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.

In addition to learning about diabetes itself, older people may have to learn how to fit management of diabetes in with their management of other disorders. Learning about how to avoid complications, such as dehydration, skin breakdown, and circulation problems, and to manage factors that can contribute to complications of diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, is especially important. Such problems become more common as people age, whether they have diabetes or not.
Diabetes can be looked for by testing a urine sample for sugar but for a diagnosis, a blood sample is required. This may be a simple measurement of the sugar level, usually fasting. Alternatively, a test called an HbA1c can be used which estimates sugar levels over the past couple of months. If someone has typical symptoms of diabetes, only a single abnormal test is required. Where there are no symptoms, a second confirmatory test is required. Sometimes, particularly in pregnancy, a glucose tolerance test is performed which involves blood tests before and 2 hours after a sugary drink.
Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): With this test you will be required to fast for at least 8 hours and then are given a drink with 75 g of carbohydrate. Your blood glucose is checked at fasting and then 2 hours after drinking the solution. If your blood glucose is 11.1 mmol/L or higher, your doctor may diagnose diabetes. If your blood glucose 2 hours after drinking the solution is between 7.8 to 11.1 mmol/L, your doctor may diagnose prediabetes. This is the preferred method to test for gestational diabetes.

High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) can lead to a condition called glucose toxicity. This leads to further damage to the pancreas, and the body is less able to produce insulin. Without insulin, glucose levels continue to rise to levels that can cause damage to organs such as the eyes, nerves, and kidneys. These problems are similar to the complications associated with type 1 diabetes.
Which came first: the diabetes or the PCOS? For many women, a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome means a diabetes diagnosis isn’t far behind. PCOS and diabetes are both associated with insulin resistance, meaning there are similar hormonal issues at play in both diseases. Fortunately, managing your PCOS and losing weight may help reduce your risk of becoming diabetic over time.

Damage to small blood vessels can affect the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Damage to eyes, specifically the retina, is called diabetic retinopathy and is the leading cause of blindness. Damage to the kidneys, called diabetic nephropathy, can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis. Damage to the nerves that supply the legs and arms and gastrointestinal tract is called diabetic neuropathy. Some people with diabetes who develop peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves in the legs) and have poor blood flow to the legs may eventually need an amputation.

Type 2 Diabetes: Accounting for 90 to 95 percent of those with diabetes, type 2 is the most common form. Usually, it's diagnosed in adults over age 40 and 80 percent of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Because of the increase in obesity, type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed at younger ages, including in children. Initially in type 2 diabetes, insulin is produced, but the insulin doesn't function properly, leading to a condition called insulin resistance. Eventually, most people with type 2 diabetes suffer from decreased insulin production.
Being too heavy gets the bulk of the blame for triggering type 2 diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. But consider that the remaining 15 percent are not. Consider, too, that roughly two-thirds of overweight people and a third of those who are obese will never develop diabetes. In other words, normal-weight and thin people also develop type 2, while heavy people won't necessarily. Clearly, there is more to the connection between lifestyle and type 2 diabetes than just body size.
FIGURE 19-1 ■. This figure shows the hyperbolic relationship of insulin resistance and beta cell function. On the y-axis is beta cell function as reflected in the first-phase insulin response during intravenous (IV) glucose infusion; on the x-axis is insulin sensitivity and its mirror image resistance. In a subject with normal glucose tolerance (NGT) and beta-cell reserve, an increase in insulin resistance results in increased insulin release and normal glucose tolerance. In an individual for whom the capacity to increase insulin release is compromised, increasing insulin resistance with partial or no beta-cell compensation results in progression from normal glucose tolerance, to impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), and finally to diabetes (T2D). Differences between these categories are small at high insulin sensitivity, which may be maintained by weight reduction, exercise, and certain drugs. At a critical degree of insulin resistance, due to obesity or other listed factors, only a further small increment in resistance requires a large increase in insulin output. Those that can increase insulin secretion to this extent retain normal glucose tolerance; those who cannot achieve this degree of insulin secretion (e.g., due to a mild defect in genes regulating insulin synthesis, insulin secretion, insulin action, or an ongoing immune destruction of beta cells) now unmask varying degrees of carbohydrate intolerance. The product of insulin sensitivity (the reciprocal of insulin resistance) and acute insulin response (a measurement beta-cell function) has been called the “disposition index.” This index remains constant in an individual with normal beta cell compensation in response to changes in insulin resistance. IGT, impaired glucose tolerance; NGT, normal glucose tolerance; T2D, type 2 diabetes.
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.

Polyuria is defined as an increase in the frequency of urination. When you have abnormally high levels of sugar in your blood, your kidneys draw in water from your tissues to dilute that sugar, so that your body can get rid of it through the urine. The cells are also pumping water into the bloodstream to help flush out sugar, and the kidneys are unable to reabsorb this fluid during filtering, which results in excess urination.
Random blood sugar test. A blood sample will be taken at a random time. Blood sugar values are expressed in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Regardless of when you last ate, a random blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or higher suggests diabetes, especially when coupled with any of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent urination and extreme thirst.

Diabetes may have symptoms in some people, and no symptoms in others. Generally, people with Type 1 diabetes have increased thirst (polydipsia), frequent urination (polyuria), and increased hunger (polyphagia). Symptoms may develop over weeks to months.  Untreated, this condition may cause a person to lose consciousness and become very ill (diabetic ketoacidosis).
There is no single gene that “causes” type 1 diabetes. Instead, there are a large number of inherited factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing diabetes. This is known as multifactorial inheritance. The genes implicated in the development of type 1 diabetes mellitus control the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system. This system is involved in the complex process of identifying cells which are a normal part of the body, and distinguishing them from foreign cells, such as those of bacteria or viruses. In an autoimmune disease such as diabetes mellitus, this system makes a mistake in identifying the normal ‘self’ cells as ‘foreign’, and attacks the body.  
If you are symptomatic (e.g., increased thirst or urination, unexplained weight loss), your doctor may only use a single test to diagnose diabetes/prediabetes. If you don't have any symptoms, one high blood glucose test doesn't necessarily mean you have diabetes/prediabetes. Your doctor will repeat one of the blood tests again on another day (generally 1 week later) to confirm the diagnosis.

If you are at increased risk of diabetes, have symptoms of diabetes, or have pre-diabetes (a major warning sign for diabetes), your doctor will check to see if you have diabetes. Your doctor may also check to see if you have diabetes if you are over the age of 45, have a family history of the disease, are overweight, or if you are at increased risk for another reason. The tests used to check for diabetes are the same tests used to check for pre-diabetes.
Hypoglycemia means abnormally low blood sugar (glucose). In patients with diabetes, the most common cause of low blood sugar is excessive use of insulin or other glucose-lowering medications, to lower the blood sugar level in diabetic patients in the presence of a delayed or absent meal. When low blood sugar levels occur because of too much insulin, it is called an insulin reaction. Sometimes, low blood sugar can be the result of an insufficient caloric intake or sudden excessive physical exertion.
George P Chrousos, MD, FAAP, MACP, MACE, FRCP(London) is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Clinical Investigation, Association of American Physicians, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research, American College of Endocrinology
After eating carbohydrates, the carbs break down into sugar, trigger the pancreas to produce insulin and are then stored in liver and muscles. However, there is a limit to the amount of sugar the liver and muscles can store. The easiest way to understand this is to think of your liver and muscles as small closets without much storage space. If sugar keeps coming in, the closet will quickly fill up.
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.
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