Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (the beta cells). As a result, the body is left without enough insulin to function normally (i.e. it becomes insulin deficient). This is called an autoimmune reaction, because the body attacks itself and produces antibodies to its own insulin-producing cells, thereby destroying them.
The prognosis of diabetes is related to the extent to which the condition is kept under control to prevent the development of the complications described in the preceding sections. Some of the more serious complications of diabetes such as kidney failure and cardiovascular disease, can be life-threatening. Acute complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis can also be life-threatening. As mentioned above, aggressive control of blood sugar levels can prevent or delay the onset of complications, and many people with diabetes lead long and full lives.
All types of diabetes mellitus have something in common. Normally, your body breaks down the sugars and carbohydrates you eat into a special sugar called glucose. Glucose fuels the cells in your body. But the cells need insulin, a hormone, in your bloodstream in order to take in the glucose and use it for energy. With diabetes mellitus, either your body doesn't make enough insulin, it can't use the insulin it does produce, or a combination of both.
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.
In the exchange system, foods are divided into six food groups (starch, meat, vegetable, fruit, milk, and fat) and the patient is taught to select items from each food group as ordered. Items in each group may be exchanged for each other in specified portions. The patient should avoid concentrated sweets and should increase fiber in the diet. Special dietetic foods are not necessary. Patient teaching should emphasize that a diabetic diet is a healthy diet that all members of the family can follow.
In patients with type 2 diabetes, stress, infection, and medications (such as corticosteroids) can also lead to severely elevated blood sugar levels. Accompanied by dehydration, severe blood sugar elevation in patients with type 2 diabetes can lead to an increase in blood osmolality (hyperosmolar state). This condition can worsen and lead to coma (hyperosmolar coma). A hyperosmolar coma usually occurs in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes. Like diabetic ketoacidosis, a hyperosmolar coma is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment with intravenous fluid and insulin is important in reversing the hyperosmolar state. Unlike patients with type 1 diabetes, patients with type 2 diabetes do not generally develop ketoacidosis solely on the basis of their diabetes. Since in general, type 2 diabetes occurs in an older population, concomitant medical conditions are more likely to be present, and these patients may actually be sicker overall. The complication and death rates from hyperosmolar coma is thus higher than in diabetic ketoacidosis.
Insulin is needed to allow glucose to pass from the blood into most of the body cells. Only the cells of the brain and central nervous system can use glucose from the blood in the absence of insulin. Without insulin, most body cells metabolize substances other than glucose for energy. However, fat metabolism in the absence of glucose metabolism, creates ketone bodies which are poisonous and their build up is associated with hyperglycemic coma. In the absence of sufficient insulin, unmetabolized glucose builds up in the blood. Water is drawn from body cells by osmosis to dilute the highly concentrated blood, and is then excreted along with much of the glucose, once the renal threshold for glucose (usually 10 mmol/L) is exceeded. Dehydration follows.
But preventing the disease from progressing if you already have it requires first being able to spot the signs and symptoms of diabetes when they appear. While some type 2 diabetes symptoms may not ever show up, you can watch out for the following common signs of the disease and alert your doctor, especially if you have any of the common risk factors for diabetes. Also keep in mind that while most signs of type 2 diabetes are the same in men and women, there are some distinctions.