"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.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease for which there is treatment but no known cure. Treatment is aimed at keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. This is achieved with a combination of diet, exercise and insulin or oral medication. People with type 1 diabetes need to be hospitalized right after they are diagnosed to get their glucose levels down to an acceptable level.
Type 2 diabetes is different. A person with type 2 diabetes still produces insulin but the body doesn't respond to it normally. Glucose is less able to enter the cells and do its job of supplying energy (a problem called insulin resistance). This raises the blood sugar level, so the pancreas works hard to make even more insulin. Eventually, this strain can make the pancreas unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.
Dietary factors also influence the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in excess is associated with an increased risk. The type of fats in the diet are important, with saturated fats and trans fatty acids increasing the risk, and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat decreasing the risk. Eating a lot of white rice appears to play a role in increasing risk. A lack of exercise is believed to cause 7% of cases. Persistent organic pollutants may play a role.
Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level by promoting the uptake of glucose into body cells. In patients with diabetes, the absence of insufficient production of or lack of response to insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime.
Type 2 diabetes was also previously referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), or adult-onset diabetes mellitus (AODM). In type 2 diabetes, patients can still produce insulin, but do so relatively inadequately for their body's needs, particularly in the face of insulin resistance as discussed above. In many cases this actually means the pancreas produces larger than normal quantities of insulin. A major feature of type 2 diabetes is a lack of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body (particularly fat and muscle cells).
The relationship between type 2 diabetes and the main modifiable risk factors (excess weight, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use) is similar in all regions of the world. There is growing evidence that the underlying determinants of diabetes are a reflection of the major forces driving social, economic and cultural change: globalization, urbanization, population aging, and the general health policy environment.
In Type II diabetes, the pancreas may produce enough insulin, however, cells have become resistant to the insulin produced and it may not work as effectively. Symptoms of Type II diabetes can begin so gradually that a person may not know that he or she has it. Early signs are lethargy, extreme thirst, and frequent urination. Other symptoms may include sudden weight loss, slow wound healing, urinary tract infections, gum disease, or blurred vision. It is not unusual for Type II diabetes to be detected while a patient is seeing a doctor about another health concern that is actually being caused by the yet undiagnosed diabetes.
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.
Constant advances are being made in development of new oral medications for persons with diabetes. In 2003, a drug called Metaglip combining glipizide and metformin was approved in a dingle tablet. Along with diet and exercise, the drug was used as initial therapy for Type 2 diabetes. Another drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) combines metformin and rosiglitazone (Avandia), a medication that increases muscle cells' sensitivity to insulin. It is marketed under the name Avandamet. So many new drugs are under development that it is best to stay in touch with a physician for the latest information; physicians can find the best drug, diet and exercise program to fit an individual patient's need.
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.
Progression toward type 2 diabetes may even be self-perpetuating. Once a person begins to become insulin resistant, for whatever reason, things may snowball from there. The increased levels of circulating insulin required to compensate for resistance encourage the body to pack on pounds. That extra weight will in turn make the body more insulin resistant. Furthermore, the heavier a person is, the more difficult it can be to exercise, continuing the slide toward diabetes.
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The body will attempt to dilute the high level of glucose in the blood, a condition called hyperglycemia, by drawing water out of the cells and into the bloodstream in an effort to dilute the sugar and excrete it in the urine. It is not unusual for people with undiagnosed diabetes to be constantly thirsty, drink large quantities of water, and urinate frequently as their bodies try to get rid of the extra glucose. This creates high levels of glucose in the urine.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by specialized cells (beta cells) of the pancreas. (The pancreas is a deep-seated organ in the abdomen located behind the stomach.) In addition to helping glucose enter the cells, insulin is also important in tightly regulating the level of glucose in the blood. After a meal, the blood glucose level rises. In response to the increased glucose level, the pancreas normally releases more insulin into the bloodstream to help glucose enter the cells and lower blood glucose levels after a meal. When the blood glucose levels are lowered, the insulin release from the pancreas is turned down. It is important to note that even in the fasting state there is a low steady release of insulin than fluctuates a bit and helps to maintain a steady blood sugar level during fasting. In normal individuals, such a regulatory system helps to keep blood glucose levels in a tightly controlled range. As outlined above, in patients with diabetes, the insulin is either absent, relatively insufficient for the body's needs, or not used properly by the body. All of these factors cause elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia).
Kidney damage from diabetes is called diabetic nephropathy. The onset of kidney disease and its progression is extremely variable. Initially, diseased small blood vessels in the kidneys cause the leakage of protein in the urine. Later on, the kidneys lose their ability to cleanse and filter blood. The accumulation of toxic waste products in the blood leads to the need for dialysis. Dialysis involves using a machine that serves the function of the kidney by filtering and cleaning the blood. In patients who do not want to undergo chronic dialysis, kidney transplantation can be considered.
Because both yeast and bacteria multiply more quickly when blood sugar levels are elevated, women with diabetes are overall at a higher risk of feminine health issues, such as bacterial infections, yeast infections, and vaginal thrush, especially when blood sugar isn't well controlled. And a lack of awareness about having prediabetes or diabetes can make managing blood sugar impossible.