For example, the environmental trigger may be a virus or chemical toxin that upsets the normal function of the immune system. This may lead to the body’s immune system attacking itself. The normal beta cells in the pancreas may be attacked and destroyed. When approximately 90% of the beta cells are destroyed, symptoms of diabetes mellitus begin to appear. The exact cause and sequence is not fully understood but investigation and research into the disease continues.
While it's conceivable that scientists will isolate a single factor as causing type 1 and type 2, the much more likely outcome is that there is more than one cause. Each person seems to take a unique path in developing diabetes. Someday, doctors may be able to assess an individual's genetic risk for diabetes, allowing him or her to dodge the particular environmental factors that would trigger the disease. And perhaps if the baffling question of why a person gets diabetes can be put to rest, the answer will also offer a cure for the disease.
In autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly manufactures antibodies and inflammatory cells that are directed against and cause damage to patients' own body tissues. In persons with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for insulin production, are attacked by the misdirected immune system. It is believed that the tendency to develop abnormal antibodies in type 1 diabetes is, in part, genetically inherited, though the details are not fully understood.
Type 2 diabetes is believed to have a strong genetic link, meaning that it tends to run in families. Several genes are being studied that may be related to the cause of type 2 diabetes. If you have any of the following type 2 diabetes risk factors, it’s important to ask your doctor about a diabetes test. With a proper diabetes diet and healthy lifestyle habits, along with diabetes medication, if necessary, you can manage type 2 diabetes just like you manage other areas of your life. Be sure to continue seeking the latest information on type 2 diabetes as you become your own health advocate.
Studies show that good control of blood sugar levels decreases the risk of complications from diabetes. Patients with better control of blood sugar have reduced rates of diabetic eye disease, kidney disease, and nerve disease. It is important for patients to measure their measuring blood glucose levels. Hemoglobin A1c can also be measured with a blood test and gives information about average blood glucose over the past 3 months.
Your body is like a car—it needs fuel to function. Its primary source of fuel is glucose (sugar), which is gained from foods that contain carbohydrates that get broken down. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, takes sugar from your blood to your cells to use for energy. However, when you have diabetes, either your pancreas isn't making enough insulin or the insulin that your body is making isn't being used the way it's supposed to be, typically because the cells become resistant to it.
An article published in November 2012 in the journal Global Public Health found that countries with more access to HFCS tended to have higher rates of the disease. Though it’s likely that these countries’ overall eating habits play a role in their populations’ diabetes risk, a study published in February 2013 in the journal PLoS One found limiting access to HFCS in particular may help reduce rates of the diagnosis.
When the blood glucose level rises above 160 to 180 mg/dL, glucose spills into the urine. When the level of glucose in the urine rises even higher, the kidneys excrete additional water to dilute the large amount of glucose. Because the kidneys produce excessive urine, people with diabetes urinate large volumes frequently (polyuria). The excessive urination creates abnormal thirst (polydipsia). Because excessive calories are lost in the urine, people may lose weight. To compensate, people often feel excessively hungry.
The more common form of diabetes, Type II, occurs in approximately 3-5% of Americans under 50 years of age, and increases to 10-15% in those over 50. More than 90% of the diabetics in the United States are Type II diabetics. Sometimes called age-onset or adult-onset diabetes, this form of diabetes occurs most often in people who are overweight and who do not exercise. It is also more common in people of Native American, Hispanic, and African-American descent. People who have migrated to Western cultures from East India, Japan, and Australian Aboriginal cultures also are more likely to develop Type II diabetes than those who remain in their original countries.
Before blood glucose levels rise, the body of a person destined for type 2 becomes resistant to insulin, much as bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. Insulin is the signal for the muscles, fat, and liver to absorb glucose from the blood. As the body becomes resistant to insulin, the beta cells in the pancreas must pump out more of the hormone to compensate. People with beta cells that can't keep up with insulin resistance develop the high blood glucose of type 2 diabetes.
It’s not uncommon for patients to suddenly feel unsteady and immediately need to reach for carbs, says Marjorie Cypress, a nurse practitioner at an endocrinology clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and 2014 president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. “When you have high blood sugar, your body has a problem regulating its glucose,” she explains. “If you’ve eaten something high in carbohydrates, your body shoots out a little too much insulin, and your glucose drops quickly. This makes you feel shaky, and you tend to crave carbs or sugar. This can lead to a vicious cycle.” These are the best foods for someone on a diabetic diet.
Keep your immunizations up to date. High blood sugar can weaken your immune system. Get a flu shot every year, and your doctor will likely recommend the pneumonia vaccine, as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends the hepatitis B vaccination if you haven't previously received this vaccine and you're an adult age 19 to 59 with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The CDC advises vaccination as soon as possible after diagnosis with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If you are age 60 or older, have diabetes and haven't previously received the vaccine, talk to your doctor about whether it's right for you.
How to use basal insulin: Benefits, types, and dosage Basal, or background, insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels in people diagnosed with diabetes. It keeps glucose levels steady throughout the day and night. It is taken as injections, once a day or more often. The type of insulin and number of daily injections varies. Find out more about the options available. Read now
“I don’t think that anybody has put their finger on what the true cause of diabetes is, or that we’re going to find a single cause,” Grieger says. So if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or have other risk factors for the disease, avoiding any one food group entirely — even sugar — won’t completely offset your risk. Rather, it’s important to prioritize proper nutrition, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight — all steps the American Diabetes Association recommends for preventing type 2 diabetes.
There are a range of different symptoms in people with diabetes. They may feel thirsty, pass a large amount of urine, wake up overnight to pass urine, lose weight and have blurred vision. Patients are vulnerable to infections such as thrush and may present with this. Particularly in type 2 diabetes, patients may not be aware of their diabetes for several years and a diagnosis may only be made when they seek treatment for diabetes-related complications such as foot, eye or kidney problems. Some patients may become severely ill and be taken into hospital with an infection and/or very high blood sugar levels.
After eating carbohydrates, the carbs break down into sugar, trigger the pancreas to produce insulin and are then stored in liver and muscles. However, there is a limit to the amount of sugar the liver and muscles can store. The easiest way to understand this is to think of your liver and muscles as small closets without much storage space. If sugar keeps coming in, the closet will quickly fill up.
Get Educated: The American Diabetes Association advises that all persons with diabetes receive diabetes self-management education (DSME) at diagnosis and thereafter. A certified diabetes educator or other qualified health professional can give you the tools you need to understand and take care of your diabetes. In addition, these individuals are trained to create a customized plan that works for you. Diabetes self-management education is a patient-centered approach that enables patients to get involved in their care.
Research has shown that there are some ways of preventing type 2 diabetes, or at least delaying its onset. Lifestyle changes such as becoming more active (or staying active, if you already engage in regular physical activity) and making sure your weight stays in a healthy range are two ways to help ward off type 2 diabetes, but talk to your doctor about what else you can do to prevent or manage the disease.
If you are a diabetic and are pregnant you can have a normal, healthy pregnancy, but you need to take extra steps to avoid gaining excess weight and high blood sugars. Lifestyle habits (eating primarily vegetables and lean protein and exercising every day) will prevent problems during pregnancy. If you are a diabetic and become pregnant, monitor your blood sugar levels often. Talk with your doctor about exploring additional health care professionals, for example, a nutritionist, health coach, or naturopathic doctor about a healthy eating plan. If your blood sugar gets out of control you may:
In type 2 diabetes (adult onset diabetes), the pancreas makes insulin, but it either doesn't produce enough, or the insulin does not work properly. Nine out of 10 people with diabetes have type 2. This type occurs most often in people who are over 40 years old but can occur even in childhood if there are risk factors present. Type 2 diabetes may sometimes be controlled with a combination of diet, weight management and exercise. However, treatment also may include oral glucose-lowering medications (taken by mouth) or insulin injections (shots).
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Diagnosis. The most common diagnostic tests for diabetes are chemical analyses of the blood such as the fasting plasma glucose. Capillary blood glucose monitoring can be used for screening large segments of the population. Portable equipment is available and only one drop of blood from the fingertip or earlobe is necessary. Capillary blood glucose levels have largely replaced analysis of the urine for glucose. Testing for urinary glucose can be problematic as the patient may have a high renal threshold, which would lead to a negative reading for urinary glucose when in fact the blood glucose level was high.
Diabetes is one of the first diseases described with an Egyptian manuscript from c. 1500 BCE mentioning "too great emptying of the urine." The first described cases are believed to be of type 1 diabetes. Indian physicians around the same time identified the disease and classified it as madhumeha or honey urine noting that the urine would attract ants. The term "diabetes" or "to pass through" was first used in 230 BCE by the Greek Apollonius Of Memphis. The disease was rare during the time of the Roman empire with Galen commenting that he had only seen two cases during his career.
Since diabetes can be life-threatening if not properly managed, patients should not attempt to treat this condition without medicial supervision. A variety of alternative therapies can be helpful in managing the symptoms of diabetes and supporting patients with the disease. Acupuncture can help relieve the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy by stimulation of cetain points. A qualified practitioner should be consulted. Herbal remedies also may be helpful in managing diabetes. Although there is no herbal substitute for insulin, some herbs may help adjust blood sugar levels or manage other diabetic symptoms. Some options include:
Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly referred to as diabetes, is a group of metabolic disorders in which there are high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. Symptoms of high blood sugar include frequent urination, increased thirst, and increased hunger. If left untreated, diabetes can cause many complications. Acute complications can include diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state, or death. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, foot ulcers, and damage to the eyes.
Diabetes mellitus (“diabetes”) and hypertension, which commonly coexist, are global public health issues contributing to an enormous burden of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and premature mortality and disability. The presence of both conditions has an amplifying effect on risk for microvascular and macrovascular complications.1 The prevalence of diabetes is rising worldwide (Fig. 37.1). Both diabetes and hypertension disproportionately affect people in middle and low-income countries, and an estimated 70% of all cases of diabetes are found in these countries.2,3 In the United States alone, the total costs of care for diabetes and hypertension in the years 2012 and 2011 were 245 and 46 billion dollars, respectively.4,5 Therefore, there is a great potential for meaningful health and economic gains attached to prevention, detection, and intervention for diabetes and hypertension.
Exercise. A program of regular exercise gives anyone a sense of good health and well-being; for persons with diabetes it gives added benefits by helping to control blood glucose levels, promoting circulation to peripheral tissues, and strengthening the heart beat. In addition, there is evidence that exercise increases the number of insulin receptor sites on the surface of cells and thus facilitates the metabolism of glucose. Many specialists in diabetes consider exercise so important in the management of diabetes that they prescribe rather than suggest exercise.
About 40% of diabetes sufferers require oral agents for satisfactory blood glucose control, and some 40% need insulin injections. This hormone was isolated by Frederic Banting and Charles Best in 1921 in Canada. It revolutionized the treatment of diabetes and prevention of its complications, transforming Type 1 diabetes from a fatal disease to one in which long-term survival became achievable.
Previously, CGMs required frequent calibration with fingerstick glucose testing. Also their results were not accurate enough so that people always had to do a fingerstick to verify a reading on their CGM before calculating a dose of insulin (for example before meals or to correct a high blood sugar). However, recent technological advances have improved CGMs. One professional CGM can be worn for up to 14 days without calibration. Another personal CGM can be used to guide insulin dosing without confirmation by fingerstick glucose. Finally, there are now systems in which the CGM device communicates with insulin pumps to either stop delivery of insulin when blood glucose is dropping (threshold suspend), or to give daily insulin (hybrid closed loop system).
In type 2 diabetes (formerly called non– insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes), the pancreas often continues to produce insulin, sometimes even at higher-than-normal levels, especially early in the disease. However, the body develops resistance to the effects of insulin, so there is not enough insulin to meet the body’s needs. As type 2 diabetes progresses, the insulin-producing ability of the pancreas decreases.
Type 2 diabetes is due to insufficient insulin production from beta cells in the setting of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, which is the inability of cells to respond adequately to normal levels of insulin, occurs primarily within the muscles, liver, and fat tissue. In the liver, insulin normally suppresses glucose release. However, in the setting of insulin resistance, the liver inappropriately releases glucose into the blood. The proportion of insulin resistance versus beta cell dysfunction differs among individuals, with some having primarily insulin resistance and only a minor defect in insulin secretion and others with slight insulin resistance and primarily a lack of insulin secretion.
Dietary factors also influence the risk of developing type 2 DM. Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in excess is associated with an increased risk. The type of fats in the diet is also important, with saturated fat and trans fats increasing the risk and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat decreasing the risk. Eating lots of white rice, and other starches, also may increase the risk of diabetes. A lack of physical activity is believed to cause 7% of cases.
How does type 2 diabetes progress over time? Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, meaning that the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar gets worse over time, despite careful management. Over time, the body’s cells become increasingly less responsive to insulin (increased insulin resistance) and beta cells in the pancreas produce less and less insulin (called beta-cell burnout). In fact, when people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they usually have already lost up to 50% or more of their beta cell function. As type 2 diabetes progresses, people typically need to add one or more different types of medications. The good news is that there are many more choices available for treatments, and a number of these medications don’t cause as much hypoglycemia, hunger and/or weight gain (e.g., metformin, pioglitazone, DPP-4 inhibitors, GLP-1 agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors, and better insulin). Diligent management early on can help preserve remaining beta cell function and sometimes slow progression of the disease, although the need to use more and different types of medications does not mean that you have failed.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), is common in people with type 1 and type 2 DM. Most cases are mild and are not considered medical emergencies. Effects can range from feelings of unease, sweating, trembling, and increased appetite in mild cases to more serious effects such as confusion, changes in behavior such as aggressiveness, seizures, unconsciousness, and (rarely) permanent brain damage or death in severe cases. Moderately low blood sugar may easily be mistaken for drunkenness; rapid breathing and sweating, cold, pale skin are characteristic of low blood sugar but not definitive. Mild to moderate cases are self-treated by eating or drinking something high in sugar. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness and must be treated with intravenous glucose or injections with glucagon.
It is a considerable challenge to obtain the goals of the intensively treated patients in the DCCT with the vast majority of people with diabetes given the more limited health care resources typically available in routine practice. If diabetes control can be improved without significant damage to quality of life, the economic, health, and quality of life savings associated with a reduction in complications in later life will be vast. Although some people who have had poorly controlled diabetes over many years do not develop complications, complications commonly arise after 15–20 years of diabetes and individuals in their 40s or even 30s may develop several complications in rapid succession. However, up until the early 1980s, patients had no way of monitoring their own blood glucose levels at home. Urine glucose monitoring only told them when their blood glucose had exceeded the renal threshold of approximately 10 mmol/L (i.e., was far too high), without being able to discriminate between the too high levels of 7–10 mmol/L or the hypoglycemic levels below 4 mmol/L. Clinics relied on random blood glucose testing and there were no measures of average blood glucose over a longer period. Since the 1980s there have been measures of glycosylated hemoglobin (GHb, HbA1, or HbA1c) which indicate average blood glucose over a six to eight week period and measures of glycosylated protein, fructosamine, which indicates average blood glucose over a two-week period. Blood-glucose meters for patients were first introduced in the early 1980s and the accuracy and convenience of the meters and the reagent strips they use has improved dramatically since early models. By the late 1990s blood-glucose monitoring is part of the daily routine for most people using insulin in developed countries. Blood-glucose monitoring is less often prescribed for tablet- and diet-alone-treated patients, financial reasons probably being allowed to outweigh the educational value of accurate feedback in improving control long term. The reduced risk of hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis in NIDDM patients not using insulin means that acute crises rarely arise in these patients though their risk of long-term complications is at least as great as in IDDM and might be expected to be reduced if feedback from blood-glucose monitoring were provided.