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Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system, the body’s system for fighting infection, attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Scientists think type 1 diabetes is caused by genes and environmental factors, such as viruses, that might trigger the disease. Studies such as TrialNet are working to pinpoint causes of type 1 diabetes and possible ways to prevent or slow the disease.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes mainly from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose get into your cells to be used for energy. In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Too much glucose then stays in your blood, and not enough reaches your cells.
The elderly diabetic person is at increased risk of atrial fibrillation (odds ratio: 1.4 for men and 1.6 for women)232 and at twofold increased risk of thromboembolism from atrial fibrillation.233,234 We can find no subgroup analysis of the major atrial fibrillation trials to examine the benefits of warfarin specifically in older diabetic subjects. It appears that the adverse event rate in diabetic people drops from 8.6 events per 100 patients per year to 2.8 events with warfarin use.234 It is important to check for retinal new vessels when diabetic subjects are placed on warfarin, although the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study235 showed no excess vitreous or preretinal hemorrhages in subjects given aspirin for vascular prophylaxis.
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.
Considering that being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, it sounds counterintuitive that shedding pounds could be one of the silent symptoms of diabetes. “Weight loss comes from two things,” says Dr. Cypess. “One, from the water that you lose [from urinating]. Two, you lose some calories in the urine and you don’t absorb all the calories from the sugar in your blood.” Once people learn they have diabetes and start controlling their blood sugar, they may even experience some weight gain—but “that’s a good thing,” says Dr. Cypess, because it means your blood sugar levels are more balanced.
When you have Type 2 diabetes, you may start out with something called insulin resistance. This means your cells do not respond well to the insulin you are making. "Insulin levels may be quite high, especially in the early stages of the disease. Eventually, your pancreas may not be able to keep up, and insulin secretion goes down," Rettinger explains. Insulin resistance becomes more common as you put on more weight, especially weight around your belly.
Many people, especially those with type 2 diabetes, are overweight or obese. Some people with type 2 diabetes may be able to avoid or delay the need to take drugs by achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Weight loss is also important in these people because excess weight contributes to complications of diabetes. When people with diabetes have trouble losing weight with diet and exercise alone, doctors may give weight-loss drugs or recommend bariatric surgery (surgery to cause weight loss).
To diagnose diabetes, doctors will take a medical history (ask you about symptoms) and ask for blood and urine samples. Finding protein and sugar in the urine are signs of type 2 diabetes. Increased glucose and triglyceride (a type of lipid or fat) levels in the blood are also common findings. In most cases, blood glucose levels are checked after a person has been fasting for 8 hours.
Higher levels of sugar in the urine and the vagina can become a breeding ground for the bacteria and yeast that cause these infections. Recurrent infections are particularly worrisome. “Usually when you keep getting infections, doctors will check for diabetes if you don’t already have it,” says Cypress. “Even women who go to the emergency room for urinary tract infections are often checked.” Don’t miss these other silent diabetes complications you need to know about.
The ADA recommends using patient age as one consideration in the establishment of glycemic goals, with different targets for preprandial, bedtime/overnight, and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels in patients aged 0-6, 6-12, and 13-19 years.  Benefits of tight glycemic control include not only continued reductions in the rates of microvascular complications but also significant differences in cardiovascular events and overall mortality.
It has become fashionable in recent years to blame sugar for many health problems. However, per capita sugar consumption has actually been falling in the United States since 1999, when bottled water and sugar-free beverages began to edge sodas off the shelf. At the same time, consumption of cheese and oily foods has steadily increased, as has diabetes prevalence. This suggests that something other than sugar is driving the diabetes epidemic.
A number of studies have looked for relationships between sugar and diabetes risk. A 2017 meta-analysis, based on nine reports of 15 cohort studies including 251,261 participants, found no significant effect of total sugars on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.7 Those consuming the most sugar actually had a 9 percent lower risk of developing diabetes, compared with those consuming the least sugar, although the difference was not statistically significant (meaning that it could have been a chance result). Similarly, fructose was not significantly associated with diabetes risk. Sucrose appeared to have a significant protective association. Those consuming the most sucrose had 11 percent less risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared with those consuming the least.
Studies in type 1 patients have shown that in intensively treated patients, diabetic eye disease decreased by 76%, kidney disease decreased by 54%, and nerve disease decreased by 60%. More recently the EDIC trial has shown that type 1 diabetes is also associated with increased heart disease, similar to type 2 diabetes. However, the price for aggressive blood sugar control is a two to three fold increase in the incidence of abnormally low blood sugar levels (caused by the diabetes medications). For this reason, tight control of diabetes to achieve glucose levels between 70 to120 mg/dl is not recommended for children under 13 years of age, patients with severe recurrent hypoglycemia, patients unaware of their hypoglycemia, and patients with far advanced diabetes complications. To achieve optimal glucose control without an undue risk of abnormally lowering blood sugar levels, patients with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood glucose at least four times a day and administer insulin at least three times per day. In patients with type 2 diabetes, aggressive blood sugar control has similar beneficial effects on the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.
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.
If you are symptomatic (e.g., increased thirst or urination, unexplained weight loss), your doctor may only use a single test to diagnose diabetes/prediabetes. If you don't have any symptoms, one high blood glucose test doesn't necessarily mean you have diabetes/prediabetes. Your doctor will repeat one of the blood tests again on another day (generally 1 week later) to confirm the diagnosis.
Skin care: High blood glucose and poor circulation can lead to skin problems such as slow healing after an injury or frequent infections. Make sure to wash every day with a mild soap and warm water, protect your skin by using sunscreen, take good care of any cuts or scrapes with proper cleansing and bandaging, and see your doctor when cuts heal slowly or if an infection develops.
Though it may be transient, untreated GDM can damage the health of the fetus or mother. Risks to the baby include macrosomia (high birth weight), congenital heart and central nervous system abnormalities, and skeletal muscle malformations. Increased levels of insulin in a fetus's blood may inhibit fetal surfactant production and cause infant respiratory distress syndrome. A high blood bilirubin level may result from red blood cell destruction. In severe cases, perinatal death may occur, most commonly as a result of poor placental perfusion due to vascular impairment. Labor induction may be indicated with decreased placental function. A caesarean section may be performed if there is marked fetal distress or an increased risk of injury associated with macrosomia, such as shoulder dystocia.
The problem with sweetened drinks is that, due to their liquid form, they’re among the fastest simple carbs to be digested in the body, causing blood sugar levels to spike even more than a simple carb in solid-food form would. Research supports this idea: A review published in November 2010 in the journal Diabetes Care suggested adding only one serving of a sweetened beverage to your diet may increase your risk for type 2 diabetes by 15 percent.
Diabetes insipidus is characterized by excessive urination and thirst, as well as a general feeling of weakness. While these can also be symptoms of diabetes mellitus, if you have diabetes insipidus your blood sugar levels will be normal and no sugar present in your urine. Diabetes insipidus is a problem of fluid balance caused by a problem with the kidneys, where they can't stop the excretion of water. Polyuria (excessive urine) and polydipsia (excessive thirst) occur in diabetes mellitus as a reaction to high blood sugar.
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into the cells in your body for use as energy. If you have type 2 diabetes, cells don’t respond normally to insulin; this is called insulin resistance. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar is damaging to the body and can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
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.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is best defined as a syndrome characterized by inappropriate fasting or postprandial hyperglycemia, caused by absolute or relative insulin deficiency and its metabolic consequences, which include disturbed metabolism of protein and fat. This syndrome results from a combination of deficiency of insulin secretion and its action. Diabetes mellitus occurs when the normal constant of the product of insulin secretion times insulin sensitivity, a parabolic function termed the “disposition index” (Figure 19-1), is inadequate to prevent hyperglycemia and its clinical consequences of polyuria, polydipsia, and weight loss. At high degrees of insulin sensitivity, small declines in the ability to secrete insulin cause only mild, clinically imperceptible defects in glucose metabolism. However, irrespective of insulin sensitivity, a minimum amount of insulin is necessary for normal metabolism. Thus, near absolute deficiency of insulin must result in severe metabolic disturbance as occurs in type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM). By contrast, with decreasing sensitivity to its action, higher amounts of insulin secretion are required for a normal disposition index. At a critical point in the disposition index curve (see Figure 19-1), a further small decrement in insulin sensitivity requires a large increase in insulin secretion; those who can mount these higher rates of insulin secretion retain normal glucose metabolism, whereas those who cannot increase their insulin secretion because of genetic or acquired defects now manifest clinical diabetes as occurs in type 2 diabetes (T2DM).
The brain depends on glucose as a fuel. As glucose levels drop below 65 mg/dL (3.2 mmol/L) counterregulatory hormones (eg, glucagon, cortisol, epinephrine) are released, and symptoms of hypoglycemia develop. These symptoms include sweatiness, shaking, confusion, behavioral changes, and, eventually, coma when blood glucose levels fall below 30-40 mg/dL.
The body obtains glucose from three main sources: the intestinal absorption of food; the breakdown of glycogen (glycogenolysis), the storage form of glucose found in the liver; and gluconeogenesis, the generation of glucose from non-carbohydrate substrates in the body. Insulin plays a critical role in balancing glucose levels in the body. Insulin can inhibit the breakdown of glycogen or the process of gluconeogenesis, it can stimulate the transport of glucose into fat and muscle cells, and it can stimulate the storage of glucose in the form of glycogen.
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.