Insulin is a hormone that — in people without diabetes — ferries glucose, or blood sugar, to cells for energy or to be stored for later use. In people with diabetes, cells are resistant to insulin; as a result of this insulin resistance, sugar accumulates in the blood. While eating sugar by itself does not cause insulin resistance, Grieger says, foods with sugar and fat can contribute to weight gain, thereby reducing insulin sensitivity in the body.
Know Your Numbers: Knowing your ABCs—A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol—are important in reducing your risk for diabetes and keeping your diabetes in good control. If you are someone with diabetes who has elevated blood pressure or cholesterol, you are increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Your physician will give you your A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol targets. Make sure you pay attention to them and understand what they mean and why they are important.
Other studies have focused, not on sugar overall but specifically on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Many have found no significant relationship, apart from sugar’s extra calories that lead to weight gain. For example, the Women’s Health Study,8 the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study,9 the Black Women’s Health Study,10 and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis found no significant associations between sugar consumption and diabetes risk after adjustment for measures of body weight. Some studies have had mixed results, exonerating sucrose, but indicting glucose and fructose.12,13 And some studies have shown associations between sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes that persist after adjustment for body weight.14,15
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
Diabetes can also be diagnosed if a blood glucose level taken any time of the day without regards to meals is 11.1 mmol/L or higher, plus you have symptoms characteristic of diabetes (e.g., increase thirst, increase urination, unexplained weight loss). A doctor may also examine the eyes for signs of damage to the blood vessels of the retina (back of the eye). Finally, diabetes mellitus is diagnosed if the 3-month cumulative blood sugar average test, known as hemoglobin A1C or glycated hemoglobin, is 6.5% or higher.
Whether you’re dealing with frequent UTIs or skin infections, undiagnosed diabetes may be to blame. The high blood sugar associated with diabetes can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infection. In more advanced cases of the disease, nerve damage and tissue death can open people up to further infections, often in the skin, and could be a precursor to amputation.
The classic symptoms of diabetes are polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst), polyphagia (increased hunger), and weight loss. Other symptoms that are commonly present at diagnosis include a history of blurred vision, itchiness, peripheral neuropathy, recurrent vaginal infections, and fatigue. Many people, however, have no symptoms during the first few years and are diagnosed on routine testing. A small number of people with type 2 diabetes mellitus can develop a hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (a condition of very high blood sugar associated with a decreased level of consciousness and low blood pressure).
The classic presenting symptoms of type 1 diabetes mellitus are discussed below. For some children, the first symptoms of diabetes mellitus are those of diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a serious and life-threatening condition, requiring immediate treatment. Ketoacidosis occurs due to a severe disturbance in the body’s metabolism. Without insulin, glucose cannot be taken up into cells. Instead fats are broken down for energy which can have acid by-products.
Research has shown that there are some ways of preventing type 2 diabetes, or at least delaying its onset. Lifestyle changes such as becoming more active (or staying active, if you already engage in regular physical activity) and making sure your weight stays in a healthy range are two ways to help ward off type 2 diabetes, but talk to your doctor about what else you can do to prevent or manage the disease.
Examples of simple or refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, exist in various forms — from the sucrose in the table sugar you use to bake cookies, to the various kinds of added sugar in packaged snacks, fruit drinks, soda, and cereal. Simple carbohydrates are natural components of many fresh foods, too, such as the lactose in milk and the fructose in fruits, and therefore, a healthy, well-balanced diet will always contain these types of sugars.
Good metabolic control can delay the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy. Loss of vision and blindness in persons with diabetes can be prevented by early detection and treatment of vision-threatening retinopathy: regular eye examinations and timely intervention with laser treatment, or through surgery in cases of advanced retinopathy. There is evidence that, even in developed countries, a large proportion of those in need is not receiving such care due to lack of public and professional awareness, as well as an absence of treatment facilities. In developing countries, in many of which diabetes is now common, such care is inaccessible to the majority of the population.
Individuals with diabetes have two times the likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection compared to individuals without the disease. If you find yourself getting up every couple of hours in the middle of the night, and you seem to be expelling a lot more urine than you used to, talk to your doctor and find out whether or not you have diabetes.
Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fiber, non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat can help get you to your goal weight and reduce your waist size and body mass index (BMI). Reducing your intake of sweetened beverages (juices, sodas) is the easiest way to lose weight and reduce blood sugars. If you are someone who has high blood pressure and are salt sensitive, aim to reduce your intake of sodium; do not add salt to your food, read package labels for added sodium, and reduce your intake of fast food and take out. Don't go on a diet. Instead, adapt a healthier way of eating, one that you'll enjoy for a long time.
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.
At present, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend general screening of the population for type 1 diabetes, though screening of high risk individuals, such as those with a first degree relative (sibling or parent) with type 1 diabetes should be encouraged. Type 1 diabetes tends to occur in young, lean individuals, usually before 30 years of age; however, older patients do present with this form of diabetes on occasion. This subgroup is referred to as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). LADA is a slow, progressive form of type 1 diabetes. Of all the people with diabetes, only approximately 10% have type 1 diabetes and the remaining 90% have type 2 diabetes.
Diabetic neuropathy is probably the most common complication of diabetes. Studies suggest that up to 50% of people with diabetes are affected to some degree. Major risk factors of this condition are the level and duration of elevated blood glucose. Neuropathy can lead to sensory loss and damage to the limbs. It is also a major cause of impotence in diabetic men.
Diabetes can also result from other hormonal disturbances, such as excessive growth hormone production (acromegaly) and Cushing's syndrome. In acromegaly, a pituitary gland tumor at the base of the brain causes excessive production of growth hormone, leading to hyperglycemia. In Cushing's syndrome, the adrenal glands produce an excess of cortisol, which promotes blood sugar elevation.
Apart from severe DKA or hypoglycemia, type 1 diabetes mellitus has little immediate morbidity. The risk of complications relates to diabetic control. With good management, patients can expect to lead full, normal, and healthy lives. Nevertheless, the average life expectancy of a child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes mellitus has been variously suggested to be reduced by 13-19 years, compared with their nondiabetic peers. 
^ Jump up to: a b Petzold A, Solimena M, Knoch KP (October 2015). "Mechanisms of Beta Cell Dysfunction Associated With Viral Infection". Current Diabetes Reports (Review). 15 (10): 73. doi:10.1007/s11892-015-0654-x. PMC 4539350. PMID 26280364. So far, none of the hypotheses accounting for virus-induced beta cell autoimmunity has been supported by stringent evidence in humans, and the involvement of several mechanisms rather than just one is also plausible.
In general, women live longer than men do because they have a lower risk of heart disease, but when women develop diabetes, their risk for heart disease skyrockets, and death by heart failure is more likely in women than in men. Another study also found that in people with diabetes, heart attacks are more often fatal for women than they are for men. Other examples of how diabetes affects women differently than men are:
Diabetes that's triggered by pregnancy is called gestational diabetes (pregnancy, to some degree, leads to insulin resistance). It is often diagnosed in middle or late pregnancy. Because high blood sugar levels in a mother are circulated through the placenta to the baby, gestational diabetes must be controlled to protect the baby's growth and development.
The most common complication of treating high blood glucose levels is low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). The risk is greatest for older people who are frail, who are sick enough to require frequent hospital admissions, or who are taking several drugs. Of all available drugs to treat diabetes, long-acting sulfonylurea drugs are most likely to cause low blood glucose levels in older people. When they take these drugs, they are also more likely to have serious symptoms, such as fainting and falling, and to have difficulty thinking or using parts of the body due to low blood glucose levels.
“It’s not like you wake up one day and all of a sudden you’re thirsty, hungry, and [going to the bathroom] all the time,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Illinois and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It picks up gradually.” Indeed, “most people are unaware that they have diabetes in its early or even middle phases,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff physician at Joslin Diabetes Center. Just because you’re not keyed in doesn’t mean you’re immune from problems associated with diabetes, he adds. The longer you go without controlling diabetes, the greater your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, blindness, and other serious complications. “We recommend that people with risk factors for diabetes, such as a family history or being overweight, get evaluated on a regular basis,” Dr. Cypess says. If you’ve been feeling off, talk to your doctor about getting a simple blood test that can diagnose the disease. And pay attention to these subtle signs and symptoms of diabetes.
In addition to learning about diabetes itself, older people may have to learn how to fit management of diabetes in with their management of other disorders. Learning about how to avoid complications, such as dehydration, skin breakdown, and circulation problems, and to manage factors that can contribute to complications of diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, is especially important. Such problems become more common as people age, whether they have diabetes or not.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus is characterized by loss of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreatic islets, leading to insulin deficiency. This type can be further classified as immune-mediated or idiopathic. The majority of type 1 diabetes is of the immune-mediated nature, in which a T cell-mediated autoimmune attack leads to the loss of beta cells and thus insulin. It causes approximately 10% of diabetes mellitus cases in North America and Europe. Most affected people are otherwise healthy and of a healthy weight when onset occurs. Sensitivity and responsiveness to insulin are usually normal, especially in the early stages. Type 1 diabetes can affect children or adults, but was traditionally termed "juvenile diabetes" because a majority of these diabetes cases were found in children.
The major eye complication of diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy occurs in patients who have had diabetes for at least five years. Diseased small blood vessels in the back of the eye cause the leakage of protein and blood in the retina. Disease in these blood vessels also causes the formation of small aneurysms (microaneurysms), and new but brittle blood vessels (neovascularization). Spontaneous bleeding from the new and brittle blood vessels can lead to retinal scarring and retinal detachment, thus impairing vision.
Doctors can monitor treatment using a blood test called hemoglobin A1C. When the blood glucose levels are high, changes occur in hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood. These changes are in direct proportion to the blood glucose levels over an extended period. The higher the hemoglobin A1C level, the higher the person's glucose levels have been. Thus, unlike the blood glucose measurement, which reveals the level at a particular moment, the hemoglobin A1Cmeasurement demonstrates whether the blood glucose levels have been controlled over the previous few months.
The good news is that behavior still seems to help shape whether someone with the genetic disposition actually develops type 2—and that changes in diet and exercise can sometimes be enough to ward off the disease. "People sometimes have the misconception that if we say something is genetic, then they can't do anything about preventing diabetes and its complications," says Hanis. But he notes that in a landmark study, lifestyle interventions prevented or delayed type 2 in nearly 60 percent of people at high risk. "If we focus on changing the environment, we can prevent diabetes," he says. "As we understand the genetics, we can prevent more of it."
Can type 2 diabetes be prevented? It is possible to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, although the underlying risk of type 2 diabetes depends strongly on genetic factors. But there was less type 2 diabetes around some years ago when people had a more active life and didn’t eat a modern Western diet. So it is fair to say that risk of getting type 2 diabetes is based on a genetic predisposition that is aggravated by lifestyle. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, as well as a variety of environmental factors. To lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (as well as other diseases), it is highly recommended to exercise often, eat healthily, and maintain a healthy weight.
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.
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.