Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which muscle, liver, and fat cells do not use insulin well. As a result, your body needs more insulin to help glucose enter cells. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to keep up with the added demand. Over time, the pancreas can’t make enough insulin, and blood glucose levels rise.
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).
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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.
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.
Although age of onset and length of the disease process are related to the frequency with which vascular, renal, and neurologic complications develop, there are some patients who remain relatively free of sequelae even into the later years of their lives. Because diabetes mellitus is not a single disease but rather a complex constellation of syndromes, each patient has a unique response to the disease process.
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.
Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin, a life-saving treatment. Patients will need to take insulin several times a day for the rest of their lives. They will usually learn how to self-administer this. Insulin is usually given through injections under the skin, normally two to four times a day. An increasing number of patients with type 1 diabetes are being treated with ‘insulin pumps’, which provide a continuous supply of insulin.
"Brittle" diabetes, also known as unstable diabetes or labile diabetes, is a term that was traditionally used to describe the dramatic and recurrent swings in glucose levels, often occurring for no apparent reason in insulin-dependent diabetes. This term, however, has no biologic basis and should not be used. Still, type 1 diabetes can be accompanied by irregular and unpredictable high blood sugar levels, frequently with ketosis, and sometimes with serious low blood sugar levels. Other complications include an impaired counterregulatory response to low blood sugar, infection, gastroparesis (which leads to erratic absorption of dietary carbohydrates), and endocrinopathies (e.g., Addison's disease). These phenomena are believed to occur no more frequently than in 1% to 2% of persons with type 1 diabetes.
Patients with type 1 diabetes require life-long treatment with exogenous (artificial) insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels. This insulin may be given through the use of a hypodermic needle (seen right), or other methods such as the use of an insulin pump. Over time, many patients suffer chronic complications: vascular, neurological and organ-specific (such as kidney and eye disease). The frequency and severity of these complications is related to duration that the patient has suffered the disease for, and by how well their blood sugar levels have been controlled. If blood sugar levels, blood pressure and lipids are tightly controlled, many complications of diabetes may be prevented. Some patients may develop the major emergency complication of diabetes, known as ketoacidosis (extremely high blood glucose levels accompanied with extremely low insulin levels), which has a mortality rate of 5-10%.
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.