Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is a common chronic disease of abnormal carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism that affects an estimated 20 million people in the United States, of whom about one third are undiagnosed. There are two major forms recognized, type-1 and type-2. Both are characterized by inappropriately high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). In type-1 diabetes the patient can not produce the hormone insulin, while in type-2 diabetes the patient produces insulin, but it is not used properly. An estimated 90% of diabetic patients suffer from type-2 disease. The causes of diabetes are multiple and both genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development. The genetic predisposition for type-2 diabetes is very strong and numerous environmental factors such as diet, lack of exercise, and being overweight are known to also increase one’s risk for diabetes. Diabetes is a dangerous disease which affects the entire body and diabetic patients are at increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, neuropathy, and infection when compared to nondiabetic patients. Diabetic patients also have impaired healing when compared to healthy individuals. This is in part due to the dysfunction of certain white blood cells that fight infection.
And go easy on yourself: Sometimes you can be doing everything perfectly and your blood sugars start to creep up. Because diabetes is a progressive disease, your body slowly stops making insulin over time. If you've had diabetes for a very long time, try not to be discouraged if your doctor has to increase your medication or discusses insulin with you. Continue to do what you can to improve your health.
Because people with type 2 diabetes produce some insulin, ketoacidosis does not usually develop even when type 2 diabetes is untreated for a long time. Rarely, the blood glucose levels become extremely high (even exceeding 1,000 mg/dL). Such high levels often happen as the result of some superimposed stress, such as an infection or drug use. When the blood glucose levels get very high, people may develop severe dehydration, which may lead to mental confusion, drowsiness, and seizures, a condition called hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state. Currently, many people with type 2 diabetes are diagnosed by routine blood glucose testing before they develop such severely high blood glucose levels.
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The American Diabetes Association recommends that blood sugars be 80mg/dL-130mg/dL before meals and less than or equal to 180mg/dL two hours after meals. Blood sugar targets are individualized based on a variety of factors such as age, length of diagnosis, if you have other health issues, etc. For example, if you are an elderly person, your targets maybe a bit higher than someone else. Ask your physician what targets are right for you.
To treat diabetic retinopathy, a laser is used to destroy and prevent the recurrence of the development of these small aneurysms and brittle blood vessels. Approximately 50% of patients with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy after 10 years of diabetes, and 80% retinopathy after 15 years of the disease. Poor control of blood sugar and blood pressure further aggravates eye disease in diabetes.
The good news is that behavior still seems to help shape whether someone with the genetic disposition actually develops type 2—and that changes in diet and exercise can sometimes be enough to ward off the disease. "People sometimes have the misconception that if we say something is genetic, then they can't do anything about preventing diabetes and its complications," says Hanis. But he notes that in a landmark study, lifestyle interventions prevented or delayed type 2 in nearly 60 percent of people at high risk. "If we focus on changing the environment, we can prevent diabetes," he says. "As we understand the genetics, we can prevent more of it."
Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is believed to result from autoimmune, environmental, and/or genetic factors. Whatever the cause, the end result is destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, a dramatic decrease in the secretion of insulin, and hyperglycemia. Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is presumably heterogeneous in origin. It is associated with older age, obesity, a family history of diabetes, and ethnicity (genetic components). The vast majority of those with non-insulin-dependent diabetes are overweight Kahn (2003). This form of the disorder has a much slower rate of progression than insulin-dependent diabetes. Over time the ability to respond to insulin decreases, resulting in increased levels of blood glucose. The pancreatic secretion of insulin increases in an attempt to compensate for the elevated levels of glucose. If the condition is untreated, the pancreatic production of insulin decreases and may even cease.
Is type 2 diabetes serious? Type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence, but it is a very serious disease that demands attention and careful monitoring. There is no such thing as ‘mild’ diabetes. Elevated glucose levels can damage the nervous system, blood vessels, eyes, heart, and kidneys. These complications really impact quality of life (through blindness, amputations, dialysis etc). They also significantly increase the chance of a stroke or heart attack. Managing blood glucose levels immediately, along with other health risk factors (e.g., cholesterol, blood pressure, weight), is necessary for preventing these complications. Losing even a small amount of weight and keeping it off can also improve glucose control as well as have other clinical benefits (read more tips on managing diet and exercise below for more on weight loss). Keep in mind that better diabetes management also has benefits in the here and now – mood and energy levels are adversely affected when your glucose levels are high.
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).
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes. People who are overweight and lose as little as 7 percent of their body weight and who increase physical activity (for example, walking 30 minutes per day) can decrease their risk of diabetes mellitus by more than 50%. Metformin and acarbose, drugs that are used to treat diabetes, may reduce the risk of diabetes in people with impaired glucose regulation.
Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) refer to levels of blood glucose concentration above the normal range, but below those which are diagnostic for diabetes. Subjects with IGT and/or IFG are at substantially higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those with normal glucose tolerance. The benefits of clinical intervention in subjects with moderate glucose intolerance is a topic of much current interest.
6. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is a common cause of female infertility and insulin resistance. It can cause signs and symptoms like irregular periods, acne, thinning scalp hair, and excess hair growth on the face and body. High insulin levels also increase the risk of developing diabetes, and about half of women with PCOS develop diabetes.
Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one. For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with a combination of meal planning, physical activity, and taking oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
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.
People with Type 1 diabetes are usually totally dependent on insulin injections for survival. Such people require daily administration of insulin. The majority of people suffering from diabetes have the Type 2 form. Although they do not depend on insulin for survival, about one third of sufferers needs insulin for reducing their blood glucose levels.
Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease. With an autoimmune disease, your immune system – which helps protect your body from getting sick – is engaged in too little or too much activity. In Type 1 diabetes, beta cells, which are a kind of cell in the pancreas that produces insulin, are destroyed. Our bodies use insulin to take the sugar from carbohydrates we eat and create fuel. With Type 1 diabetes, your body does not produce insulin, and that's why you need to use insulin as part of your treatment.
This is specific to type 2 diabetes. It occurs when insulin is produced normally in the pancreas, but the body is still unable move glucose into the cells for fuel. At first, the pancreas will create more insulin to overcome the body’s resistance. Eventually the cells “wear out.” At that point the body slows insulin production, leaving too much glucose in the blood. This is known as prediabetes. A person with prediabetes has a blood sugar level higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Unless tested, the person may not be aware, as there are no clear symptoms. Type 2 diabetes occurs as insulin production continues to decrease and resistance increases.
Get to Know Your Medications: If you have diabetes, it is important to know and understand what your medications do. This can help to keep blood sugars controlled and prevent low and high blood sugars. Certain medicines need to be taken with food, or they will cause your blood sugar will drop. There are so many diabetes medications out there. Being your own advocate can help you. Make sure to tell your doctor if your medications are too expensive or if they are causing any side effects. If your medication regimen is not working for you, odds are your doctor can find a new medicine that might work better.
Assemble a Medical Team: Whether you've had diabetes for a long time or you've just been diagnosed, there are certain doctors that are important to see. It is extremely important to have a good primary care physician. This type of doctor will help coordinate appointments for other physicians if they think that you need it. Some primary physicians treat diabetes themselves, whereas others will recommend that you visit an endocrinologist for diabetes treatment. An endocrinologist is a person who specializes in diseases of the endocrine system, diabetes being one of them.
Although the signs of diabetes can begin to show early, sometimes it takes a person a while to recognize the symptoms. This often makes it seem like signs and symptoms of diabetes appear suddenly. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your body, rather than simply brushing them off. To that end, here are some type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms that you may want to watch out for:
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol, your risk of type 2 diabetes is higher. Triglycerides are another type of fat carried in the blood. People with high levels of triglycerides have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Your doctor can let you know what your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are.