"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.
Getting diagnosed with diabetes can be shocking, but the good news is that, although it is a disease you must deal with daily, it is a manageable one. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, especially if you are someone who is at high risk, you should meet with your primary care physician to get tested. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the more likely you can get your diabetes under control and prevent complications.
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.
If you are a diabetic and are pregnant you can have a normal, healthy pregnancy, but you need to take extra steps to avoid gaining excess weight and high blood sugars. Lifestyle habits (eating primarily vegetables and lean protein and exercising every day) will prevent problems during pregnancy. If you are a diabetic and become pregnant, monitor your blood sugar levels often. Talk with your doctor about exploring additional health care professionals, for example, a nutritionist, health coach, or naturopathic doctor about a healthy eating plan. If your blood sugar gets out of control you may:
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.
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.
The term brittle diabetes has been used to refer to people who have dramatic recurrent swings in blood glucose levels, often for no apparent reason. However, this term is no longer used. People with type 1 diabetes may have more frequent swings in blood glucose levels because insulin production is completely absent. Infection, delayed movement of food through the stomach, and other hormonal disorders may also contribute to blood glucose swings. In all people who have difficulty controlling blood glucose, doctors look for other disorders that might be causing the problem and also give people additional education on how to monitor diabetes and take their drugs.
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).
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.
ORAL GLUCOSE TOLERANCE TEST. Blood samples are taken from a vein before and after a patient drinks a thick, sweet syrup of glucose and other sugars. In a non-diabetic, the level of glucose in the blood goes up immediately after the drink and then decreases gradually as insulin is used by the body to metabolize, or absorb, the sugar. In a diabetic, the glucose in the blood goes up and stays high after drinking the sweetened liquid. A plasma glucose level of 11.1 mmol/L (200 mg/dL) or higher at two hours after drinking the syrup and at one other point during the two-hour test period confirms the diagnosis of diabetes.
How to prevent type 2 diabetes: Six useful steps What are the risks factors for developing type 2 diabetes, and how can we prevent it? Some factors such as blood sugar levels, body weight, fiber intake, and stress can be controlled to some extent, but others, such as age and family history cannot. Find out more about reducing the risk of developing this condition. Read now
People with type 1 diabetes and certain people with type 2 diabetes may use carbohydrate counting or the carbohydrate exchange system to match their insulin dose to the carbohydrate content of their meal. "Counting" the amount of carbohydrate in a meal is used to calculate the amount of insulin the person takes before eating. However, the carbohydrate-to-insulin ratio (the amount of insulin taken for each gram of carbohydrate in the meal) varies for each person, and people with diabetes need to work closely with a dietician who has experience in working with people with diabetes to master the technique. Some experts have advised use of the glycemic index (a measure of the impact of an ingested carbohydrate-containing food on the blood glucose level) to delineate between rapid and slowly metabolized carbohydrates, although there is little evidence to support this approach.
Threshold for diagnosis of diabetes is based on the relationship between results of glucose tolerance tests, fasting glucose or HbA1c and complications such as retinal problems. A fasting or random blood sugar is preferred over the glucose tolerance test, as they are more convenient for people. HbA1c has the advantages that fasting is not required and results are more stable but has the disadvantage that the test is more costly than measurement of blood glucose. It is estimated that 20% of people with diabetes in the United States do not realize that they have the disease.
Doctors can also measure the level of a protein, hemoglobin A1C (also called glycosylated or glycolated hemoglobin), in the blood. Hemoglobin is the red, oxygen-carrying substance in red blood cells. When blood is exposed to high blood glucose levels over a period of time, glucose attaches to the hemoglobin and forms glycosylated hemoglobin. The hemoglobin A1C level (reported as the percentage of hemoglobin that is A1C) reflects long-term trends in blood glucose levels rather than rapid changes.
Insulin is released into the blood by beta cells (β-cells), found in the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, in response to rising levels of blood glucose, typically after eating. Insulin is used by about two-thirds of the body's cells to absorb glucose from the blood for use as fuel, for conversion to other needed molecules, or for storage. Lower glucose levels result in decreased insulin release from the beta cells and in the breakdown of glycogen to glucose. This process is mainly controlled by the hormone glucagon, which acts in the opposite manner to insulin.
Studies show that good control of blood sugar levels decreases the risk of complications from diabetes. Patients with better control of blood sugar have reduced rates of diabetic eye disease, kidney disease, and nerve disease. It is important for patients to measure their measuring blood glucose levels. Hemoglobin A1c can also be measured with a blood test and gives information about average blood glucose over the past 3 months.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body does not use insulin properly. It usually occurs in adults, although in some cases children may be affected. People with type 2 diabetes usually have a family history of this condition and 90% are overweight or obese. People with type 2 diabetes may eventually need insulin injections. This condition occurs most commonly in people of Indigenous and African descent, Hispanics, and Asians.
a broadly applied term used to denote a complex group of syndromes that have in common a disturbance in the oxidation and utilization of glucose, which is secondary to a malfunction of the beta cells of the pancreas, whose function is the production and release of insulin. Because insulin is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, diabetes is not limited to a disturbance of glucose homeostasis alone.
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
In the sunshine, molecules in the skin are converted to vitamin D. But people stay indoors more these days, which could lead to vitamin D deficiency. Research shows that if mice are deprived of vitamin D, they are more likely to become diabetic. In people, observational studies have also found a correlation between D deficiency and type 1. "If you don't have enough D, then [your immune system] doesn't function like it should," says Chantal Mathieu, MD, PhD, a professor of experimental medicine and endocrinology at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. "Vitamin D is not the cause of type 1 diabetes. [But] if you already have a risk, you don't want to have vitamin D deficiency on board because that's going to be one of the little pushes that pushes you in the wrong direction."
In this health topic, we explain the dangers of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar levels, and diabetes. Hyperglycemia causes many of the warning signs of diabetes listed above. Hyperglycemia may be caused by skipping or forgetting your insulin or diabetes medicine, eating too many grams of carbs for the amount of insulin administered, simply eating too many grams of carbs in general, or from stress or infections.