Taking the drugs used to treat diabetes, particularly insulin, may be difficult for some older people. For those with vision problems or other problems that make accurately filling a syringe difficult, a caregiver can prepare the syringes ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator. People whose insulin dose is stable may purchase pre-filled syringes. Prefilled insulin pen devices may be easier for people with physical limitations. Some of these devices have large numbers and easy-to-turn dials.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Environmental factors are important, because even identical twins have only a 30-60% concordance for type 1 diabetes mellitus and because incidence rates vary in genetically similar populations under different living conditions.  No single factor has been identified, but infections and diet are considered the 2 most likely environmental candidates.
Diagnosis. The most common diagnostic tests for diabetes are chemical analyses of the blood such as the fasting plasma glucose. Capillary blood glucose monitoring can be used for screening large segments of the population. Portable equipment is available and only one drop of blood from the fingertip or earlobe is necessary. Capillary blood glucose levels have largely replaced analysis of the urine for glucose. Testing for urinary glucose can be problematic as the patient may have a high renal threshold, which would lead to a negative reading for urinary glucose when in fact the blood glucose level was high.
This depends on the type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, and to a lesser extent type 1 diabetes, may run in families. If a parent has diabetes, their children will not necessarily get it but they are at an increased risk. In type 2 diabetes, lifestyle factors such as being overweight (obesity) and lack of exercise can significantly increase your risk of developing diabetes. Some rarer types of diabetes mellitus may be inherited.
Metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Fortamet, Riomet) belongs to a class of drugs called biguanides. Metformin is first-line therapy for most type 2 diabetics. It works to stop the liver from making excess glucose, and has a low risk of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, or very low blood sugar can cause symptoms such as sweating, nervousness, heart palpitations, weakness, intense hunger, trembling, and problems speaking. Many patients lose some weight taking metformin, which is also helpful for blood sugar control.
Although this newfound knowledge on sugar, and specifically added sugar, may prompt you to ditch the soda, juice, and processed foods, be mindful of the other factors that can similarly influence your risk for type 2 diabetes. Obesity, a family history of diabetes, a personal history of heart disease, and depression, for instance, are other predictors for the disease, according to the NIH.
Though not routinely used any longer, the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is a gold standard for making the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. It is still commonly used for diagnosing gestational diabetes and in conditions of pre-diabetes, such as polycystic ovary syndrome. With an oral glucose tolerance test, the person fasts overnight (at least eight but not more than 16 hours). Then first, the fasting plasma glucose is tested. After this test, the person receives an oral dose (75 grams) of glucose. There are several methods employed by obstetricians to do this test, but the one described here is standard. Usually, the glucose is in a sweet-tasting liquid that the person drinks. Blood samples are taken at specific intervals to measure the blood glucose.
And go easy on yourself: Sometimes you can be doing everything perfectly and your blood sugars start to creep up. Because diabetes is a progressive disease, your body slowly stops making insulin over time. If you've had diabetes for a very long time, try not to be discouraged if your doctor has to increase your medication or discusses insulin with you. Continue to do what you can to improve your health.
Finally, modern society should probably shoulder at least some of the blame for the type 2 diabetes epidemic. Access to cheap, calorie-laden foods may even influence type 2 risk beyond simply their effects on body weight; the stuff that is in processed foods, like high-fructose corn syrup, could alter the body's chemistry or gut microbes in a way that affects health. Add to that the fact that most Americans are sedentary, spending their time sitting in cubicles, driving in cars, playing video games, or watching television. The lack of exercise, plus the abundance of unhealthy foods, cultivates a fertile breeding ground for diabetes.
Visual impairment and blindness are common sequelae of uncontrolled diabetes. The three most frequently occurring problems involving the eye are diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. photocoagulation of destructive lesions of the retina with laser beams can be used to delay further progress of pathologic changes and thereby preserve sight in the affected eye.
Doctors and people with diabetes have observed that infections seem more common if you have diabetes. Research in this area, however, has not proved whether this is entirely true, nor why. It may be that high levels of blood sugar impair your body's natural healing process and your ability to fight infections. For women, bladder and vaginal infections are especially common.
Diabetes insipidus is considered very rare in less 20,000 cases diagnosed per year. Diabetes mellitus is more common, with type 2 diabetes being more common than type 1. There are more than 3 million cases of type 2 diabetes. Unlike diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus is not treated by controlling insulin levels. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a low-salt diet, hormone therapy, or have you increase your water intake.
Diabetes mellitus has been recorded in all species but is most commonly seen in middle-aged to older, obese, female dogs. A familial predisposition has been suggested. It is possible to identify two types of diabetes, corresponding to the disease in humans, depending on the response to an intravenous glucose tolerance test. Type I is insulin-dependent and comparable to the juvenile onset form of the disease in children in which there is an absolute deficiency of insulin—there is a very low initial blood insulin level and a low response to the injected glucose. This form is seen in a number of dog breeds, particularly the Keeshond, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd dog, Poodle, Golden retriever and Labrador retriever.
Hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia or “insulin shock” is a common concern in DM management. It typically develops when a diabetic patient takes his or her normal dose of insulin without eating normally. As a result, the administered insulin can push the blood sugar to potentially dangerously low levels. Initially the patient may experience, sweating, nervousness, hunger and weakness. If the hypoglycemic patient is not promptly given sugar (sugar, cola, cake icing), he or she may lose consciousness and even lapse into coma. Questions and Answers about Diabetes and Your Mouth Q: If I have diabetes, will I develop the oral complications that were mentioned? A: It depends. There is a two-way relationship between your oral health and how well your blood sugar is controlled (glycemic control). Poor control of your blood sugar increases your risk of developing the multitude of complications associated with diabetes, including oral complications. Conversely, poor oral health interferes with proper glucose stabilization. Indeed, recent research has shown that diabetic patients who improve their oral health experience a modest improvement in their blood sugar levels. In essence, “Healthy mouths mean healthy bodies.” Q: What are the complications of diabetes therapy that can impact my oral health? A: One of the most worrisome urgent complications associated with diabetes management is the previously described hypoglycemia or insulin shock. In addition, many of the medications prescribed to treat diabetes and its complications, such as hypertension and heart disease, may induce adverse side effects affecting the mouth. Common side effects include dry mouth, taste aberrations, and mouth sores. Q: I have type-2 diabetes. Are my dental problems different than those experienced by people with type-1 diabetes? A: No. All patients with diabetes are at increased risk for the development of dental disease. What is different is that type-2 disease tends to progress more slowly than type-1 disease. Thus, most type-2 diabetes patients are diagnosed later in life, a time in which they are likely to already have existing dental problems. Remember, there is no dental disease unique to diabetes. Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes simply compromises your body’s ability to control the existing disease.
While unintentional weight loss may seem like a dream to some people, it can also be a scary sign that your pancreas isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. Accidental weight loss is often one of the first signs of diabetes. However, weight loss may also help you prevent developing the condition in the first place. In fact, losing just 5 percent of your body weight may lower your risk of diabetes by as much as 58 percent. And when you’re ready to ditch a few pounds, start by adding the 40 Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep You Slim to your routine.
The most common test used to diagnose diabetes is the fasting blood glucose. This test measures the glucose levels at a specific moment in time (normal is 80-110 mg/dl). In managing diabetes, the goal is to normalize blood glucose levels. It is generally accepted that by maintaining normalized blood glucose levels, one may delay or even prevent some of the complications associated with diabetes. Measures to manage diabetes include behavioral modification (proper diet, exercise) and drug therapies (oral hypoglycemics, insulin replacement). The choice of therapy prescribed takes into consideration the type and severity of the disease present and patient compliance. The physician may request the patient keep a log of their daily blood glucose measurements, in an effort to better assess therapeutic success. Another commonly obtained test is the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), which is a surrogate marker used to assess blood glucose levels over an extended period (2-3 months). This test provides the physician with a good picture of the patient’s glucose levels over time.
Exercise is very important if you have this health condition. Exercise makes cells more insulin sensitive, pulling glucose out of the blood. This brings down blood sugar, and more importantly, gives you better energy because the glucose is being transferred to the cells. Any type of exercise will do this, but extra benefit is gained when the activity helps build muscle, such as weight training or using resistance bands. The benefits of exercise on blood sugar last about 48-72 hours, so it is important for you to be physically active almost every day.
Because type 2 diabetes is linked to high levels of sugar in the blood, it may seem logical to assume that eating too much sugar is the cause of the disease. But of course, it’s not that simple. “This has been around for years, this idea that eating too much sugar causes diabetes — but the truth is, type 2 diabetes is a multifactorial disease with many different types of causes,” says Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, a nutrition coach in Prescott, Arizona, and a medical reviewer for Everyday Health. “Type 2 diabetes is really complex.”
Aspirin should be used as secondary prophylaxis in all diabetic people with evidence of macrovascular disease, and it should be strongly considered as primary prevention in diabetic subjects with other risk factors for macrovascular disease, such as hypertension, cigarette smoking, dyslipidemia, obesity, and albuminuria (macro or micro).228 Because of the platelet defects associated with diabetes, it is recommended that the dose of aspirin should be 300 mg per day,228–230 although the American Diabetes Association’s position statement (http://www.diabetes.org/DiabetesCare/supplement198/s45.htm) advocates a dose of 81 to 325 mg enteric-coated aspirin per day. If the patient cannot tolerate aspirin, then clopidogrel231 can be used.
In patients with type 2 diabetes, stress, infection, and medications (such as corticosteroids) can also lead to severely elevated blood sugar levels. Accompanied by dehydration, severe blood sugar elevation in patients with type 2 diabetes can lead to an increase in blood osmolality (hyperosmolar state). This condition can worsen and lead to coma (hyperosmolar coma). A hyperosmolar coma usually occurs in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes. Like diabetic ketoacidosis, a hyperosmolar coma is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment with intravenous fluid and insulin is important in reversing the hyperosmolar state. Unlike patients with type 1 diabetes, patients with type 2 diabetes do not generally develop ketoacidosis solely on the basis of their diabetes. Since in general, type 2 diabetes occurs in an older population, concomitant medical conditions are more likely to be present, and these patients may actually be sicker overall. The complication and death rates from hyperosmolar coma is thus higher than in diabetic ketoacidosis.
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.
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).
Type 2 (formerly called 'adult-onset' or 'non insulin-dependent') diabetes results when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly (this is also referred to as ‘insulin resistance’). This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are over 40 years of age, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes, although today it is increasingly found in younger people.
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.
Diabetes can occur temporarily during pregnancy, and reports suggest that it occurs in 2% to 10% of all pregnancies. Significant hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to blood sugar elevation in genetically predisposed individuals. Blood sugar elevation during pregnancy is called gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes usually resolves once the baby is born. However, 35% to 60% of women with gestational diabetes will eventually develop type 2 diabetes over the next 10 to 20 years, especially in those who require insulin during pregnancy and those who remain overweight after their delivery. Women with gestational diabetes are usually asked to undergo an oral glucose tolerance test about six weeks after giving birth to determine if their diabetes has persisted beyond the pregnancy, or if any evidence (such as impaired glucose tolerance) is present that may be a clue to a risk for developing 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.