Most pediatric patients with diabetes have type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) and a lifetime dependence on exogenous insulin. Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a chronic metabolic disorder caused by an absolute or relative deficiency of insulin, an anabolic hormone. Insulin is produced by the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans located in the pancreas, and the absence, destruction, or other loss of these cells results in type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus [IDDM]). A possible mechanism for the development of type 1 diabetes is shown in the image below. (See Etiology.)
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.
Beta cells are vulnerable to more than just bad genes, which may explain the associations between type 2 diabetes and environmental factors that aren't related to how much fat a body has or where it is stored. Beta cells carry vitamin D receptors on their surface, and people with vitamin D deficiency are at increased risk for type 2. Plus, several studies have shown that people with higher levels of toxic substances in their blood—such as from the PCBs found in fish fat—are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, though a cause-and-effect relationship hasn't been proved. (Toxic substances and vitamin D have also been implicated in type 1 diabetes, but the disease mechanism may be unrelated to what's going on in type 2.)
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.
Often people don't experience symptoms of diabetes until their blood sugars are very high. Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger, extreme fatigues, numbness and tingling in the extremities (hands and feet), cuts and wounds that are slow to heal, and blurred vision. Some people also experience other less common symptoms including weight loss, dry itchy skin, increased yeast infections, erectile dysfunction, and acanthosis nigricans (thick, "velvety" patches found in the folds or creases of skin, such as the neck, that is indicative of insulin resistance).
At the same time that the body is trying to get rid of glucose from the blood, the cells are starving for glucose and sending signals to the body to eat more food, thus making patients extremely hungry. To provide energy for the starving cells, the body also tries to convert fats and proteins to glucose. The breakdown of fats and proteins for energy causes acid compounds called ketones to form in the blood. Ketones also will be excreted in the urine. As ketones build up in the blood, a condition called ketoacidosis can occur. This condition can be life threatening if left untreated, leading to coma and death.
Our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose and other nutrients we need, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. The glucose level in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. But in people with diabetes, the body either can't make or can't respond to insulin properly.
Elevated homocysteine levels in the blood called hyperhomocysteinemia, is a sign that the body isn't producing enough of the amino acid homocysteine. is a rare and serious condition that may be inherited (genetic). People with homocystinuria die at an early age. Symptoms of hyperhomocysteinemia include developmental delays, osteoporosis, blood clots, heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and visual abnormalities.