A study by Mayer-Davis et al indicated that between 2002 and 2012, the incidence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus saw a significant rise among youths in the United States. According to the report, after the figures were adjusted for age, sex, and race or ethnic group, the incidence of type 1 (in patients aged 0-19 years) and type 2 diabetes mellitus (in patients aged 10-19 years) during this period underwent a relative annual increase of 1.8% and 4.8%, respectively. The greatest increases occurred among minority youths. 
Some people with type 2 diabetes are treated with insulin. Insulin is either injected with a syringe several times per day, or delivered via an insulin pump. The goal of insulin therapy is to mimic the way the pancreas would produce and distribute its own insulin, if it were able to manufacture it. Taking insulin does not mean you have done a bad job of trying to control your blood glucose—instead it simply means that your body doesn’t produce or use enough of it on its own to cover the foods you eat.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot properly store and use fuel for energy. The body's main fuel is a form of sugar called glucose, which comes from food (after it has been broken down). Glucose enters the blood and is used by cells for energy. To use glucose, the body needs a hormone called insulin that's made by the pancreas. Insulin is important because it allows glucose to leave the blood and enter the body's cells.
Diabetes develops when the body can't make any or enough insulin, and/or when it can't properly use the insulin it makes. For some people with diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin. In these cases, insulin is still produced, but the body does not respond to the effects of insulin as it should. This is called insulin resistance. Whether from not enough insulin or the inability to use insulin properly, the result is high levels of glucose in the blood, or hyperglycemia.
People with diabetes aim for a hemoglobin A1C level of less than 7%. Achieving this level is difficult, but the lower the hemoglobin A1C level, the less likely people are to have complications. Doctors may recommend a slightly higher or lower target for certain people depending on their particular health situation. However, levels above 9% show poor control, and levels above 12% show very poor control. Most doctors who specialize in diabetes care recommend that hemoglobin A1C be measured every 3 to 6 months.
The woman’s weight may also play a role. Changing hormone levels and weight gain are part of a healthy pregnancy, but both changes make it more difficult for the body to keep up with its need for insulin. This may lead to gestational diabetes. As pregnancy progresses, the placenta also produces insulin-blocking hormones, which might result in a woman’s blood-glucose levels becoming elevated if there isn’t enough insulin to counter this effect.
Incidence and Prevalence. It has been estimated that slightly over 6 per cent of the population is affected by some form of diabetes, or 17 million people in the USA and 1.2 to 1.4 million in Canada; many of these individuals are not diagnosed. Diabetes is ranked third as a cause of death, although the life span of patients with diabetes has increased due to improved methods of detection and better management. There is no cure for diabetes at the present time, but enormous strides have been made in the control of the disease. The patient must understand the importance of compliance with the entire treatment plan, including diet, exercise, and in some cases medication. The patient with diabetes is at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, renal failure, neuropathies, and diabetic retinopathy. Research studies such as the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial have indicated that tight control of blood glucose levels resulted in the delay or prevention of retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy.
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.
Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level by promoting the uptake of glucose into body cells. In patients with diabetes, the absence of insufficient production of or lack of response to insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime.
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.
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.
Cataracts and glaucoma are also more common among diabetics. It is also important to note that since the lens of the eye lets water through, if blood sugar concentrations vary a lot, the lens of the eye will shrink and swell with fluid accordingly. As a result, blurry vision is very common in poorly controlled diabetes. Patients are usually discouraged from getting a new eyeglass prescription until their blood sugar is controlled. This allows for a more accurate assessment of what kind of glasses prescription is required.
There is evidence that certain emotions can promote type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that depression seems to predispose people to diabetes. Other research has tied emotional stress to diabetes, though the link hasn't been proved. Researchers speculate that the emotional connection may have to do with the hormone cortisol, which floods the body during periods of stress. Cortisol sends glucose to the blood, where it can fuel a fight-or-flight response, but overuse of this system may lead to dysfunction.
Though not routinely used any longer, the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is a gold standard for making the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. It is still commonly used for diagnosing gestational diabetes and in conditions of pre-diabetes, such as polycystic ovary syndrome. With an oral glucose tolerance test, the person fasts overnight (at least eight but not more than 16 hours). Then first, the fasting plasma glucose is tested. After this test, the person receives an oral dose (75 grams) of glucose. There are several methods employed by obstetricians to do this test, but the one described here is standard. Usually, the glucose is in a sweet-tasting liquid that the person drinks. Blood samples are taken at specific intervals to measure the blood glucose.
Type 2 diabetes is most common is those who are genetically predisposed and who are overweight, lead a sedentary lifestyle, have high blood pressure, and/or have insulin resistance due to excess weight. People of certain ethnicities are more likely to develop diabetes, too. These include: African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans. These populations are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing diabetes.
It's not as clear what the rest of the type 1 genes are up to, but researchers are eager to find out. "Even though something accounts for a small part [of the genetic risk], it could have a significant impact," says Stephen Rich, PhD, director of the Center for Public Health Genomics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Understanding these genes' role may clue researchers in to less obvious biological pathways involved in type 1 diabetes, and to possible prevention strategies.
Diabetes can also result from other hormonal disturbances, such as excessive growth hormone production (acromegaly) and Cushing's syndrome. In acromegaly, a pituitary gland tumor at the base of the brain causes excessive production of growth hormone, leading to hyperglycemia. In Cushing's syndrome, the adrenal glands produce an excess of cortisol, which promotes blood sugar elevation.
Occasionally, a child with hypoglycemic coma may not recover within 10 minutes, despite appropriate therapy. Under no circumstances should further treatment be given, especially intravenous glucose, until the blood glucose level is checked and still found to be subnormal. Overtreatment of hypoglycemia can lead to cerebral edema and death. If coma persists, seek other causes.
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.
There is strong evidence that the long-term complications are related to the degree and duration of metabolic disturbances.2 These considerations form the basis of standard and innovative therapeutic approaches to this disease that include newer pharmacologic formulations of insulin, delivery by traditional and more physiologic means, and evolving methods to continuously monitor blood glucose to maintain it within desired limits by linking these features to algorithm-driven insulin delivery pumps for an “artificial pancreas.”
Can type 2 diabetes be cured? In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, it is possible to manage the diabetes to a level where symptoms go away and A1c reaches a normal level – this effectively “reverses” the progression of type 2 diabetes. According to research from Newcastle University, major weight loss can return insulin secretion to normal in people who had type 2 diabetes for four years or less. Indeed, it is commonly believed that significant weight loss and building muscle mass is the best way to reverse type 2 diabetes progression. However, it is important to note that reversing diabetes progression is not the same as curing type 2 diabetes – people still need to monitor their weight, diet, and exercise to ensure that type 2 diabetes does not progress. For many people who have had type 2 diabetes for a longer time, the damage to the beta cells progresses to the point at which it will never again be possible to make enough insulin to correctly control blood glucose, even with dramatic weight loss. But even in these people, weight loss is likely the best way to reduce the threat of complications.
Scientists have done studies of twins to help estimate how important genes are in determining one's risk of developing diabetes. Identical twins have identical genes and thus the same genetic risk for a disease. Research has found that if one identical twin has type 1 diabetes, the chance that the other twin will get the disease is roughly 40 or 50 percent. For type 2 diabetes, that risk goes up to about 80 or 90 percent. This might suggest that genes play a bigger role in type 2 than in type 1, but that isn't necessarily so. Type 2 is far more common in the general population than type 1, which means that regardless of genetics both twins are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Visual impairment and blindness are common sequelae of uncontrolled diabetes. The three most frequently occurring problems involving the eye are diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. photocoagulation of destructive lesions of the retina with laser beams can be used to delay further progress of pathologic changes and thereby preserve sight in the affected eye.
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.