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.
The patient, physician, nurse, and dietician must carefully evaluate the patient's life style, nutritional needs, and ability to comply with the proposed dietary prescription. There are a variety of meal planning systems that can be used by the patient with diabetes; each has benefits and drawbacks that need to be evaluated in order to maximize compliance. Two of the most frequently used ones are the exchange system (see accompanying table) and the carbohydrate counting system.
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.
No single environmental trigger has been identified as causing diabetes mellitus, however both infectious agents and dietary factors are thought to be important. Various viruses have been implicated in the development of type I DM. They may act by initiating or modifying the autoimmune process. In particular, the rubella virus and coxsackie viruses have been closely studied. In particular, congenital rubella infection has shown direct relationships with the development of type 1 diabetes mellitus. This is presumably due to the virus (or antibodies against it) damaging the beta cells of the pancreas. Some research has looked at dietary factors that may be associated with type 1 diabetes. In particular, cow’s milk proteins (such as bovine serum albumin) which may have some similarities to pancreatic islet cell markers may be able to trigger the autoimmune process. Other chemicals including nitrosamines have been identified as causes of diabetes mellitus in animal models, but not in humans.
Insulin works like a key that opens the doors to cells and lets the glucose in. Without insulin, glucose can't get into the cells (the doors are "locked" and there is no key) and so it stays in the bloodstream. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood remains higher than normal. High blood sugar levels are a problem because they can cause a number of health problems.
Don’t be alarmed: This is not diabetic retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the back of the eye are getting destroyed, says Dr. Cypess. In the early stages of diabetes, the eye lens is not focusing well because glucose builds up in the eye, which temporarily changes its shape. “You’re not going blind from diabetes,” Dr. Cypess says he assures patients. “In about six to eight weeks after your blood sugars are stabilized, you’re not going to feel it anymore; the eye will adjust.” Here are more surprising facts you never knew about diabetes.
The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) was a clinical study conducted by Z that was published in The Lancet in 1998. Around 3,800 people with type 2 diabetes were followed for an average of ten years, and were treated with tight glucose control or the standard of care, and again the treatment arm had far better outcomes. This confirmed the importance of tight glucose control, as well as blood pressure control, for people with this condition.
Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one. For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with a combination of meal planning, physical activity, and taking oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
The woman’s weight may also play a role. Changing hormone levels and weight gain are part of a healthy pregnancy, but both changes make it more difficult for the body to keep up with its need for insulin. This may lead to gestational diabetes. As pregnancy progresses, the placenta also produces insulin-blocking hormones, which might result in a woman’s blood-glucose levels becoming elevated if there isn’t enough insulin to counter this effect.
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.
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.
In an otherwise healthy individual, blood glucose levels usually do not rise above 180 mg/dL (9 mmol/L). In a child with diabetes, blood sugar levels rise if insulin is insufficient for a given glucose load. The renal threshold for glucose reabsorption is exceeded when blood glucose levels exceed 180 mg/dL (10 mmol/L), causing glycosuria with the typical symptoms of polyuria and polydipsia. (See Pathophysiology, Clinical, and Treatment.)
The development of type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. While some of these factors are under personal control, such as diet and obesity, other factors are not, such as increasing age, female gender, and genetics. A lack of sleep has been linked to type 2 diabetes. This is believed to act through its effect on metabolism. The nutritional status of a mother during fetal development may also play a role, with one proposed mechanism being that of DNA methylation. The intestinal bacteria Prevotella copri and Bacteroides vulgatus have been connected with type 2 diabetes.
But if you’re struggling with weight loss, eating fewer foods with added sugar and fat can be a step in the right direction for improving your health and potentially reducing your diabetes risk. In fact, if you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, losing just 5 to 7 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC.
The prognosis for a person with this health condition is estimated to be a life expectancy of 10 years less than a person without diabetes. However, good blood sugar control and taking steps to prevent complications is shortening this gap and people with the condition are living longer than ever before. It can be reversed with diligent attention to changing lifestyle behaviors.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Morbidity and mortality stem from the metabolic derangements and from the long-term complications that affect small and large vessels, resulting in retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy, ischemic heart disease, and arterial obstruction with gangrene of extremities.2 The acute clinical manifestations can be fully understood in the context of current knowledge of the secretion and action of insulin.3 Genetic and other etiologic considerations implicate autoimmune mechanisms in the evolution of the most common form of childhood diabetes, known as type 1a diabetes.4,5 Genetic defects in insulin secretion are increasingly recognized and understood as defining the causes of monogenic forms of diabetes such as maturity-onset diabetes of youth (MODY) and neonatal DM and contributing to the spectrum of T2DM.6
Rosiglitazone, a thiazolidinedione, has not been found to improve long-term outcomes even though it improves blood sugar levels. Additionally it is associated with increased rates of heart disease and death. Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs) prevent kidney disease and improve outcomes in those with diabetes. The similar medications angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) do not. A 2016 review recommended treating to a systolic blood pressure of 140 to 150 mmHg.
When you have diabetes, excess sugar (glucose) builds up in your blood. Your kidneys are forced to work overtime to filter and absorb the excess sugar. If your kidneys can't keep up, the excess sugar is excreted into your urine, dragging along fluids from your tissues. This triggers more frequent urination, which may leave you dehydrated. As you drink more fluids to quench your thirst, you'll urinate even more.
Infections. Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to a variety of tissue infections. The most commonly encountered is a yeast infection (Candida) and the presence of dry mouth further increases one’s risk (see PATIENT INFORMATION SHEET – Oral Yeast Infections). Typically, affected areas appear redder than the surrounding tissue and commonly affected sites include the tongue, palate, cheeks, gums, or corners of the mouth (see Right). There is conflicting data regarding cavity risk in the diabetic patient, but those who have dry mouth are clearly at increased risk for developing cavities.
The term "diabetes" or "to pass through" was first used in 230 BCE by the Greek Apollonius of Memphis. The disease was considered rare during the time of the Roman empire, with Galen commenting he had only seen two cases during his career. This is possibly due to the diet and lifestyle of the ancients, or because the clinical symptoms were observed during the advanced stage of the disease. Galen named the disease "diarrhea of the urine" (diarrhea urinosa).
People with diabetes can benefit from education about the disease and treatment, good nutrition to achieve a normal body weight, and exercise, with the goal of keeping both short-term and long-term blood glucose levels within acceptable bounds. In addition, given the associated higher risks of cardiovascular disease, lifestyle modifications are recommended to control blood pressure.
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.
If genetics has taught us anything about diabetes, it's that, for most people, genes aren't the whole story. True, a few rare kinds of diabetes—including those collectively called MODY for maturity-onset diabetes of the young—have been traced to defects in a single gene. But for other types of diabetes, hereditary factors are still not well understood.
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.
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Periodontal Disease. Periodontal disease is a commonly observed dental problem for patients with diabetes. It is similar to the periodontal disease encountered among nondiabetic patients. However, as a consequence of the impaired immunity and healing associated with diabetes, it may be more severe and progress more rapidly (see Right). The potential for these changes points to the need for periodic professional evaluation and treatment.
A proper diet and exercise are the foundations of diabetic care, with a greater amount of exercise yielding better results. Exercise improves blood sugar control, decreases body fat content and decreases blood lipid levels, and these effects are evident even without weight loss. Aerobic exercise leads to a decrease in HbA1c and improved insulin sensitivity. Resistance training is also useful and the combination of both types of exercise may be most effective.
If, on the other hand, you are already starting to develop complications or your medication regimen has changed because your blood sugars are getting higher, remember that diabetes is a progressive disease—and sometimes these things just happen without any influence from your own actions. As you age, beta cells in the pancreas get tired and stop working. If you've had diabetes for 20 years and now need to start insulin, for example, it doesn't mean you've failed. It just means that your body needs some help. Make sure you continue to receive education and that you continue to have someone to lean on when you need it, and keep the lines of communication open with your doctor. It truly can make a difference.
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