Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
The body’s immune system is responsible for fighting off foreign invaders, like harmful viruses and bacteria. In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakes the body’s own healthy cells for foreign invaders. The immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. After these beta cells are destroyed, the body is unable to produce insulin.
There are a number of medications and other health problems that can predispose to diabetes. Some of the medications include: glucocorticoids, thiazides, beta blockers, atypical antipsychotics, and statins. Those who have previously had gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Other health problems that are associated include: acromegaly, Cushing's syndrome, hyperthyroidism, pheochromocytoma, and certain cancers such as glucagonomas. Testosterone deficiency is also associated with type 2 diabetes.
In an otherwise healthy individual, blood glucose levels usually do not rise above 180 mg/dL (9 mmol/L). In a child with diabetes, blood sugar levels rise if insulin is insufficient for a given glucose load. The renal threshold for glucose reabsorption is exceeded when blood glucose levels exceed 180 mg/dL (10 mmol/L), causing glycosuria with the typical symptoms of polyuria and polydipsia. (See Pathophysiology, Clinical, and Treatment.)
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.
Patients with type 1 diabetes require life-long treatment with exogenous (artificial) insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels. This insulin may be given through the use of a hypodermic needle (seen right), or other methods such as the use of an insulin pump. Over time, many patients suffer chronic complications: vascular, neurological and organ-specific (such as kidney and eye disease). The frequency and severity of these complications is related to duration that the patient has suffered the disease for, and by how well their blood sugar levels have been controlled. If blood sugar levels, blood pressure and lipids are tightly controlled, many complications of diabetes may be prevented. Some patients may develop the major emergency complication of diabetes, known as ketoacidosis (extremely high blood glucose levels accompanied with extremely low insulin levels), which has a mortality rate of 5-10%.
Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS). Signs and symptoms of this life-threatening condition include a blood sugar reading higher than 600 mg/dL (33.3 mmol/L), dry mouth, extreme thirst, fever greater than 101 F (38 C), drowsiness, confusion, vision loss, hallucinations and dark urine. Your blood sugar monitor may not be able to give you an exact reading at such high levels and may instead just read "high."
What is type 2 diabetes and prediabetes? Behind type 2 diabetes is a disease where the body’s cells have trouble responding to insulin – this is called insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone needed to store the energy found in food into the body’s cells. In prediabetes, insulin resistance starts growing and the beta cells in the pancreas that release insulin will try to make even more insulin to make up for the body’s insensitivity. This can go on for a long time without any symptoms. Over time, though, the beta cells in the pancreas will fatigue and will no longer be able to produce enough insulin – this is called “beta burnout.” Once there is not enough insulin, blood sugars will start to rise above normal. Prediabetes causes people to have higher-than-normal blood sugars (and an increased risk for heart disease and stroke). Left unnoticed or untreated, blood sugars continue to worsen and many people progress to type 2 diabetes. After a while, so many of the beta cells have been damaged that diabetes becomes an irreversible condition.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Culturally appropriate education may help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels, for up to 24 months. If changes in lifestyle in those with mild diabetes has not resulted in improved blood sugars within six weeks, medications should then be considered. There is not enough evidence to determine if lifestyle interventions affect mortality in those who already have DM2.
Patients with Type I diabetes need daily injections of insulin to help their bodies use glucose. The amount and type of insulin required depends on the height, weight, age, food intake, and activity level of the individual diabetic patient. Some patients with Type II diabetes may need to use insulin injections if their diabetes cannot be controlled with diet, exercise, and oral medication. Injections are given subcutaneously, that is, just under the skin, using a small needle and syringe. Injection sites can be anywhere on the body where there is looser skin, including the upper arm, abdomen, or upper thigh.
In this health topic, we discuss hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS), an extremely serious complication that can lead to diabetic coma and even death in type 2 diabetes. This serious condition occurs when the blood sugar gets too high and the body becomes severely dehydrated. To prevent HHNS and diabetic coma in type 2 diabetes, check your blood sugar regularly as recommended by your health care provider; check your blood sugar more frequently when you are sick, drink plenty of fluids, and watch for signs of dehydration.