Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can start quickly, in a matter of weeks. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop slowly—over the course of several years—and can be so mild that you might not even notice them. Many people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms. Some people do not find out they have the disease until they have diabetes-related health problems, such as blurred vision or heart trouble.
The diabetic patient should learn to recognize symptoms of low blood sugar (such as confusion, sweats, and palpitations) and high blood sugar (such as, polyuria and polydipsia). When either condition results in hospitalization, vital signs, weight, fluid intake, urine output, and caloric intake are accurately documented. Serum glucose and urine ketone levels are evaluated. Chronic management of DM is also based on periodic measurement of glycosylated hemoglobin levels (HbA1c). Elevated levels of HbA1c suggest poor long-term glucose control. The effects of diabetes on other body systems (such as cerebrovascular, coronary artery, and peripheral vascular) should be regularly assessed. Patients should be evaluated regularly for retinal disease and visual impairment and peripheral and autonomic nervous system abnormalities, e.g., loss of sensation in the feet. The patient is observed for signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, e.g., numbness or pain in the hands and feet, decreased vibratory sense, footdrop, and neurogenic bladder. The urine is checked for microalbumin or overt protein losses, an early indication of nephropathy. The combination of peripheral neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease results in changes in the skin and microvasculature that lead to ulcer formation on the feet and lower legs with poor healing. Approx. 45,000 lower-extremity diabetic amputations are performed in the U.S. each year. Many amputees have a second amputation within five years. Most of these amputations are preventable with regular foot care and examinations. Diabetic patients and their providers should look for changes in sensation to touch and vibration, the integrity of pulses, capillary refill, and the skin. All injuries, cuts, and blisters should be treated promptly. The patient should avoid constricting hose, slippers, shoes, and bed linens or walking barefoot. The patient with ulcerated or insensitive feet is referred to a podiatrist for continuing foot care and is warned that decreased sensation can mask injuries.
Persons with diabetes who take insulin must be careful about indulging in unplanned exercise. Strenuous physical activity can rapidly lower their blood sugar and precipitate a hypoglycemic reaction. For a person whose blood glucose level is over 250 mg/dl, the advice would be not to exercise at all. At this range, the levels of insulin are too low and the body would have difficulty transporting glucose into exercising muscles. The result of exercise would be a rise in blood glucose levels.
Several tests are helpful in identifying DM. These include tests of fasting plasma glucose levels, casual (randomly assessed) glucose levels, or glycosylated hemoglobin levels. Diabetes is currently established if patients have classic diabetic symptoms and if on two occasions fasting glucose levels exceed 126 mg/dL (> 7 mmol/L), random glucose levels exceed 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L), or a 2-hr oral glucose tolerance test is 200 mg/dL or more. A hemoglobin A1c test that is more than two standard deviations above normal (6.5% or greater) is also diagnostic of the disease.
Diabetes mellitus is classified into four broad categories: type 1, type 2, gestational diabetes, and "other specific types". The "other specific types" are a collection of a few dozen individual causes. Diabetes is a more variable disease than once thought and people may have combinations of forms. The term "diabetes", without qualification, usually refers to diabetes mellitus.
Every cell in the human body needs energy in order to function. The body's primary energy source is glucose, a simple sugar resulting from the digestion of foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Glucose from the digested food circulates in the blood as a ready energy source for any cells that need it. Insulin is a hormone or chemical produced by cells in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach. Insulin bonds to a receptor site on the outside of cell and acts like a key to open a doorway into the cell through which glucose can enter. Some of the glucose can be converted to concentrated energy sources like glycogen or fatty acids and saved for later use. When there is not enough insulin produced or when the doorway no longer recognizes the insulin key, glucose stays in the blood rather entering the cells.
There are two main kinds of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. More than 90% of all people with diabetes have type 2. Overall, more than 3 million Canadians have diabetes, and the number is rapidly rising. Over a third of people with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have the disease and are not receiving the required treatment because, for many people, early symptoms are not noticeable without testing.
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.
Patients with type 2 diabetes can still make insulin, but not enough to control their glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is therefore initially treated with a combination of lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) which reduce the need for insulin and therefore lower glucose levels. If this is insufficient to achieve good glucose control, a range of tablets are available. These include metformin and pioglitazone, which, like diet and exercise, reduce insulin requirements; sulphonylureas (e.g. gliclazide), which stimulate insulin secretion; DPP4 inhibitors (e.g sitagliptin) and GLP-1 agonists (e.g. liraglutide), which stimulate insulin production and reduce appetite; and SGLT2 inhibitors (e.g. dapagliflozin), which lower blood sugar levels by causing sugar to pass out of the body in the urine. In many patients, particularly after several years of treatment, insulin production is so low or so insufficient compared with the patient's needs that patients with type 2 diabetes have to be treated with insulin injections, either alone or in combination with tablets.
A random blood sugar of greater than 11.1 mmol/l (200 mg/dl) in association with typical symptoms or a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) of ≥ 48 mmol/mol (≥ 6.5 DCCT %) is another method of diagnosing diabetes. In 2009 an International Expert Committee that included representatives of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) recommended that a threshold of ≥ 48 mmol/mol (≥ 6.5 DCCT %) should be used to diagnose diabetes. This recommendation was adopted by the American Diabetes Association in 2010. Positive tests should be repeated unless the person presents with typical symptoms and blood sugars >11.1 mmol/l (>200 mg/dl).
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Diabetic foot disease, due to changes in blood vessels and nerves, often leads to ulceration and subsequent limb amputation. It is one of the most costly complications of diabetes, especially in communities with inadequate footwear. It results from both vascular and neurological disease processes. Diabetes is the most common cause of non-traumatic amputation of the lower limb, which may be prevented by regular inspection and good care of the foot.
The good news is that prevention plays an important role in warding off these complications. By maintaining tight control of your blood glucose—and getting it as close to normal as possible—you’ll help your body function in the way that it would if you did not have diabetes. Tight control helps you decrease the chances that your body will experience complications from elevated glucose levels.
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but a person does not yet have diabetes. Prediabetes and high blood glucose levels are a risk factor for developing diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Other warning signs prediabetes may include increased urination, feeling you need to urinate more often, and/or increased thirst.
Patients need to ensure that their blood glucose levels are kept as normal as possible so that delicate tissues in the body (especially blood vessels in the eyes, kidneys and peripheral nerves) are not damaged by high glucose levels over a long period of time. To achieve this, patients need to measure their glucose regularly and learn how to adjust their insulin doses in order to optimise their glucose levels (diabetes control). Good diabetes control helps to minimise the risk of long-term diabetes complications, as well as short-term symptoms (such as thirst).
When the glucose concentration in the blood remains high over time, the kidneys will reach a threshold of reabsorption, and glucose will be excreted in the urine (glycosuria). This increases the osmotic pressure of the urine and inhibits reabsorption of water by the kidney, resulting in increased urine production (polyuria) and increased fluid loss. Lost blood volume will be replaced osmotically from water held in body cells and other body compartments, causing dehydration and increased thirst (polydipsia).
Patients with type 1 DM, unless they have had a pancreatic transplant, require insulin to live; intensive therapy with insulin to limit hyperglycemia (“tight control”) is more effective than conventional therapy in preventing the progression of serious microvascular complications such as kidney and retinal diseases. Intensive therapy consists of three or more doses of insulin injected or administered by infusion pump daily, with frequent self-monitoring of blood glucose levels as well as frequent changes in therapy as a result of contacts with health care professionals. Some negative aspects of intensive therapy include a three times more frequent occurrence of severe hypoglycemia, weight gain, and an adverse effect on serum lipid levels, i.e., a rise in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides and a fall in HDL cholesterol. Participation in an intensive therapy program requires a motivated patient, but it can dramatically reduce eye, nerve, and renal complications compared to conventional therapy. See: insulin pump for illus.
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.
"We know that there is a very large genetic component," Rettinger says. "A person with a first-degree relative with Type 2 diabetes has a five to 10 time higher risk of developing diabetes than a person the same age and weight without a family history of Type 2 diabetes." Heredity actually plays a larger role in Type 2 diabetes than Type 1, Rettinger says.
The term brittle diabetes has been used to refer to people who have dramatic recurrent swings in blood glucose levels, often for no apparent reason. However, this term is no longer used. People with type 1 diabetes may have more frequent swings in blood glucose levels because insulin production is completely absent. Infection, delayed movement of food through the stomach, and other hormonal disorders may also contribute to blood glucose swings. In all people who have difficulty controlling blood glucose, doctors look for other disorders that might be causing the problem and also give people additional education on how to monitor diabetes and take their drugs.
In people with type 1 diabetes, the symptoms often begin abruptly and dramatically. A serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication in which the body produces excess acid, may quickly develop. In addition to the usual diabetes symptoms of excessive thirst and urination, the initial symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis also include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and—particularly in children—abdominal pain. Breathing tends to become deep and rapid as the body attempts to correct the blood’s acidity (see Acidosis), and the breath smells fruity and like nail polish remover. Without treatment, diabetic ketoacidosis can progress to coma and death, sometimes very quickly.
Most pediatric patients with diabetes have type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) and a lifetime dependence on exogenous insulin. Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a chronic metabolic disorder caused by an absolute or relative deficiency of insulin, an anabolic hormone. Insulin is produced by the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans located in the pancreas, and the absence, destruction, or other loss of these cells results in type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus [IDDM]). A possible mechanism for the development of type 1 diabetes is shown in the image below. (See Etiology.)
There are many complications of diabetes. Knowing and understanding the signs of these complications is important. If caught early, some of these complications can be treated and prevented from getting worse. The best way to prevent complications of diabetes is to keep your blood sugars in good control. High glucose levels produce changes in the blood vessels themselves, as well as in blood cells (primarily erythrocytes) that impair blood flow to various organs.