Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, resulting in high levels of sugar in the bloodstream. There are many different types of diabetes; the most common are type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which are covered in this article. Gestational diabetes occurs during the second half of pregnancy and is covered in a separate article. Diabetes can also be caused by disease or damage to the pancreas, Cushing's syndrome, acromegaly and there are also some rare genetic forms.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) comprises a group of disorders characterized by hyperglycemia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and results in $132 billion in total direct and indirect costs. Although the incidence of Type 1 diabetes has doubled over the past 30 years, the increase in Type 2 diabetes has been even more dramatic. An estimated 20–40% of cases in large pediatric diabetes centers are now Type 2, and the rates are expected to rise along with the epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity (Chapter 11).
Having diabetes requires life-long treatment and follow-up by health professionals. Diabetes can be linked to damage of the eyes, kidneys and feet. It is also associated with increased risk of strokes, heart attacks and poor blood circulation to the legs. Medical care aims to minimise these risks by controlling diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and screening for possible complications caused by the diabetes.
Type I diabetes, sometimes called juvenile diabetes, begins most commonly in childhood or adolescence. In this form of diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin. It is characterized by a sudden onset and occurs more frequently in populations descended from Northern European countries (Finland, Scotland, Scandinavia) than in those from Southern European countries, the Middle East, or Asia. In the United States, approximately three people in 1,000 develop Type I diabetes. This form also is called insulin-dependent diabetes because people who develop this type need to have daily injections of insulin.
The classic symptoms of diabetes such as polyuria, polydypsia and polyphagia occur commonly in type 1 diabetes, which has a rapid development of severe hyperglycaemia and also in type 2 diabetes with very high levels of hyperglycaemia. Severe weight loss is common only in type 1 diabetes or if type 2 diabetes remains undetected for a long period. Unexplained weight loss, fatigue and restlessness and body pain are also common signs of undetected diabetes. Symptoms that are mild or have gradual development could also remain unnoticed.
Diabetes mellitus type 2 (also known as type 2 diabetes) is a long-term metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and relative lack of insulin. Common symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, and unexplained weight loss. Symptoms may also include increased hunger, feeling tired, and sores that do not heal. Often symptoms come on slowly. Long-term complications from high blood sugar include heart disease, strokes, diabetic retinopathy which can result in blindness, kidney failure, and poor blood flow in the limbs which may lead to amputations. The sudden onset of hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state may occur; however, ketoacidosis is uncommon.
A metabolic disease in which carbohydrate use is reduced and that of lipid and protein enhanced; it is caused by an absolute or relative deficiency of insulin and is characterized, in more severe cases, by chronic hyperglycemia, glycosuria, water and electrolyte loss, ketoacidosis, and coma; long-term complications include neuropathy, retinopathy, nephropathy, generalized degenerative changes in large and small blood vessels, and increased susceptibility to infection.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes were identified as separate conditions for the first time by the Indian physicians Sushruta and Charaka in 400–500 CE with type 1 associated with youth and type 2 with being overweight. The term "mellitus" or "from honey" was added by the Briton John Rolle in the late 1700s to separate the condition from diabetes insipidus, which is also associated with frequent urination. Effective treatment was not developed until the early part of the 20th century, when Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Herbert Best isolated and purified insulin in 1921 and 1922. This was followed by the development of the long-acting insulin NPH in the 1940s.
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.)
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive, chronic disease related to your body's challenges with regulating blood sugar. It is often associated with generalized inflammation. Your pancreas produces the hormone insulin to convert sugar (glucose) to energy that you either use immediately or store. With type 2 diabetes, you are unable to use that insulin efficiently. Although your body produces the hormone, either there isn't enough of it to keep up with the amount of glucose in your system, or the insulin being produced isn't being used as well as it should be, both of which result in high blood sugar levels.
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.
Talking to a counselor or therapist may help you cope with the lifestyle changes that come with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. You may find encouragement and understanding in a type 2 diabetes support group. Although support groups aren't for everyone, they can be good sources of information. Group members often know about the latest treatments and tend to share their own experiences or helpful information, such as where to find carbohydrate counts for your favorite takeout restaurant. If you're interested, your doctor may be able to recommend a group in your area.
Aspirin should be used as secondary prophylaxis in all diabetic people with evidence of macrovascular disease, and it should be strongly considered as primary prevention in diabetic subjects with other risk factors for macrovascular disease, such as hypertension, cigarette smoking, dyslipidemia, obesity, and albuminuria (macro or micro).228 Because of the platelet defects associated with diabetes, it is recommended that the dose of aspirin should be 300 mg per day,228–230 although the American Diabetes Association’s position statement (http://www.diabetes.org/DiabetesCare/supplement198/s45.htm) advocates a dose of 81 to 325 mg enteric-coated aspirin per day. If the patient cannot tolerate aspirin, then clopidogrel231 can be used.
People with these risk factors should be screened for diabetes at least once every three years. Diabetes risk can be estimated using online risk calculators. Doctors may measure fasting blood glucose levels and hemoglobin A1C level, or do an oral glucose tolerance test. If the test results are on the border between normal and abnormal, doctors do the screening tests more often, at least once a year.
Persons with diabetes are prone to infection, delayed healing, and vascular disease. The ease with which poorly controlled diabetic persons develop an infection is thought to be due in part to decreased chemotaxis of leukocytes, abnormal phagocyte function, and diminished blood supply because of atherosclerotic changes in the blood vessels. An impaired blood supply means a deficit in the protective defensive cells transported in the blood. Excessive glucose allows organisms to grow out of control.
In type 1 diabetes, other symptoms to watch for include unexplained weight loss, lethargy, drowsiness, and hunger. Symptoms sometimes occur after a viral illness. In some cases, a person may reach the point of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) before a type 1 diagnosis is made. DKA occurs when blood glucose is dangerously high and the body can't get nutrients into the cells because of the absence of insulin. The body then breaks down muscle and fat for energy, causing an accumulation of ketones in the blood and urine. Symptoms of DKA include a fruity odor on the breath; heavy, taxed breathing; and vomiting. If left untreated, DKA can result in stupor, unconsciousness, and even death.
If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. They are no more "off limits" to people with diabetes than they are to people without diabetes. The key to sweets is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions so you focus your meal on more healthful foods.
Diabetes also can cause heart disease and stroke, as well as other long-term complications, including eye problems, kidney disease, nerve damage, and gum disease. While these problems don't usually show up in kids or teens who've had type 2 diabetes for only a few years, they can affect them in adulthood, particularly if their diabetes isn't well controlled.
Arlan L Rosenbloom, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Epidemiology, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Florida Chapter of The American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida Pediatric Society, International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes
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.