Sasigarn A Bowden, MD Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Pediatric Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, Department of Pediatrics, Ohio State University College of Medicine; Pediatric Endocrinologist, Associate Fellowship Program Director, Division of Endocrinology, Nationwide Children’s Hospital; Affiliate Faculty/Principal Investigator, Center for Clinical Translational Research, Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital
There are many complications of diabetes. Knowing and understanding the signs of these complications is important. If caught early, some of these complications can be treated and prevented from getting worse. The best way to prevent complications of diabetes is to keep your blood sugars in good control. High glucose levels produce changes in the blood vessels themselves, as well as in blood cells (primarily erythrocytes) that impair blood flow to various organs.
The elderly diabetic person is at increased risk of atrial fibrillation (odds ratio: 1.4 for men and 1.6 for women)232 and at twofold increased risk of thromboembolism from atrial fibrillation.233,234 We can find no subgroup analysis of the major atrial fibrillation trials to examine the benefits of warfarin specifically in older diabetic subjects. It appears that the adverse event rate in diabetic people drops from 8.6 events per 100 patients per year to 2.8 events with warfarin use.234 It is important to check for retinal new vessels when diabetic subjects are placed on warfarin, although the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study235 showed no excess vitreous or preretinal hemorrhages in subjects given aspirin for vascular prophylaxis.
Many people, especially those with type 2 diabetes, are overweight or obese. Some people with type 2 diabetes may be able to avoid or delay the need to take drugs by achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Weight loss is also important in these people because excess weight contributes to complications of diabetes. When people with diabetes have trouble losing weight with diet and exercise alone, doctors may give weight-loss drugs or recommend bariatric surgery (surgery to cause weight loss).
Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level by promoting the uptake of glucose into body cells. In patients with diabetes, the absence of insufficient production of or lack of response to insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime.
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."
Accelerated atherosclerosis is the main underlying factor contributing to the high risk of atherothrombotic events in DM patients. CAD, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, and increased intima-media thickness are the main macrovascular complications. Diabetics are 2–4 times more likely to develop stroke than people without DM.2 CVD, particularly CAD, is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with DM.4 Patients with T2DM have a 2- to 4-fold increase in the risk of CAD, and patients with DM but without previous myocardial infarction (MI) carry the same level of risk for subsequent acute coronary events as nondiabetic patients with previous MI.5 Furthermore, people with diabetes have a poorer long-term prognosis after MI, including an increased risk for congestive heart failure and death.
The symptoms may relate to fluid loss and polyuria, but the course may also be insidious. Diabetic animals are more prone to infections. The long-term complications recognized in humans are much rarer in animals. The principles of treatment (weight loss, oral antidiabetics, subcutaneous insulin) and management of emergencies (e.g. ketoacidosis) are similar to those in humans.
Insulin is vital to patients with type 1 diabetes - they cannot live without a source of exogenous insulin. Without insulin, patients with type 1 diabetes develop severely elevated blood sugar levels. This leads to increased urine glucose, which in turn leads to excessive loss of fluid and electrolytes in the urine. Lack of insulin also causes the inability to store fat and protein along with breakdown of existing fat and protein stores. This dysregulation, results in the process of ketosis and the release of ketones into the blood. Ketones turn the blood acidic, a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Without prompt medical treatment, patients with diabetic ketoacidosis can rapidly go into shock, coma, and even death may result.
Is type 2 diabetes serious? Type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence, but it is a very serious disease that demands attention and careful monitoring. There is no such thing as ‘mild’ diabetes. Elevated glucose levels can damage the nervous system, blood vessels, eyes, heart, and kidneys. These complications really impact quality of life (through blindness, amputations, dialysis etc). They also significantly increase the chance of a stroke or heart attack. Managing blood glucose levels immediately, along with other health risk factors (e.g., cholesterol, blood pressure, weight), is necessary for preventing these complications. Losing even a small amount of weight and keeping it off can also improve glucose control as well as have other clinical benefits (read more tips on managing diet and exercise below for more on weight loss). Keep in mind that better diabetes management also has benefits in the here and now – mood and energy levels are adversely affected when your glucose levels are high.
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.
Rates of type 2 diabetes have increased markedly since 1960 in parallel with obesity. As of 2015 there were approximately 392 million people diagnosed with the disease compared to around 30 million in 1985. Typically it begins in middle or older age, although rates of type 2 diabetes are increasing in young people. Type 2 diabetes is associated with a ten-year-shorter life expectancy. Diabetes was one of the first diseases described. The importance of insulin in the disease was determined in the 1920s.
Vulvodynia or vaginal pain, genital pain is a condition in which women have chronic vulvar pain with no known cause. There are two types of vulvodynia, generalized vulvodynia and vulvar vestibulitis. Researchers are trying to find the causes of vulvodynia, for example, nerve irritation, genetic factors, hypersensitivity to yeast infections, muscle spasms, and hormonal changes.The most common symptoms of vaginal pain (vulvodynia) is burning, rawness, itching, stinging, aching, soreness, and throbbing. There are a variety of treatments that can ease the symptoms of vulvodynia (vaginal pain).
Creatinine is a chemical waste molecule that is generated from muscle metabolism. Creatinine is produced from creatine, a molecule of major importance for energy production in muscles. Creatinine has been found to be a fairly reliable indicator of kidney function. As the kidneys become impaired the creatinine level in the blood will rise. Normal levels of creatinine in the blood vary from gender and age of the individual.
When it comes to diabetes, there's no real answer yet. Yes, science has begun to uncover the roots of this disease, unearthing a complex interplay of genes and environment—and a lot more unanswered questions. Meanwhile, there's plenty of misinformation to go around. (How often have you had to explain that diabetes doesn't happen because someone "ate too much"?)
Get to Know Your Medications: If you have diabetes, it is important to know and understand what your medications do. This can help to keep blood sugars controlled and prevent low and high blood sugars. Certain medicines need to be taken with food, or they will cause your blood sugar will drop. There are so many diabetes medications out there. Being your own advocate can help you. Make sure to tell your doctor if your medications are too expensive or if they are causing any side effects. If your medication regimen is not working for you, odds are your doctor can find a new medicine that might work better.
Doctors may recommend one or more types of medications to help control diabetes. While taking medications, it's important for people with diabetes to regularly test their blood glucose levels at home. There are many different blood glucose meters available on the market. Speak to a doctor or pharmacist about these meters to help you select the best meter for your needs.
Diabetic ketoacidosis can be caused by infections, stress, or trauma, all of which may increase insulin requirements. In addition, missing doses of insulin is also an obvious risk factor for developing diabetic ketoacidosis. Urgent treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis involves the intravenous administration of fluid, electrolytes, and insulin, usually in a hospital intensive care unit. Dehydration can be very severe, and it is not unusual to need to replace 6-7 liters of fluid when a person presents in diabetic ketoacidosis. Antibiotics are given for infections. With treatment, abnormal blood sugar levels, ketone production, acidosis, and dehydration can be reversed rapidly, and patients can recover remarkably well.
On behalf of the millions of Americans who live with or are at risk for diabetes, we are committed to helping you understand this chronic disease. Help us set the record straight and educate the world about diabetes and its risk factors by sharing the common questions and answers below. If you're new to type 2 diabetes, join our Living With Type 2 Diabetes program to get more facts.
Diet, exercise, and education are the cornerstones of treatment of diabetes and often the first recommendations for people with mild diabetes. Weight loss is important for people who are overweight. People who continue to have elevated blood glucose levels despite lifestyle changes, or have very high blood glucose levels and people with type 1 diabetes (no matter their blood glucose levels) also require drugs.
Scientists have done studies of twins to help estimate how important genes are in determining one's risk of developing diabetes. Identical twins have identical genes and thus the same genetic risk for a disease. Research has found that if one identical twin has type 1 diabetes, the chance that the other twin will get the disease is roughly 40 or 50 percent. For type 2 diabetes, that risk goes up to about 80 or 90 percent. This might suggest that genes play a bigger role in type 2 than in type 1, but that isn't necessarily so. Type 2 is far more common in the general population than type 1, which means that regardless of genetics both twins are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Insulin — the hormone that allows your body to regulate sugar in the blood — is made in your pancreas. Essentially, insulin resistance is a state in which the body’s cells do not use insulin efficiently. As a result, it takes more insulin than normal to transport blood sugar (glucose) into cells, to be used immediately for fuel or stored for later use. A drop in efficiency in getting glucose to cells creates a problem for cell function; glucose is normally the body’s quickest and most readily available source of energy.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus can occur at any age, but incidence rates generally increase with age until midpuberty and then decline.  Onset in the first year of life, although unusual, can occur, so type 1 diabetes mellitus must be considered in any infant or toddler, because these children have the greatest risk for mortality if diagnosis is delayed. (Because diabetes is easily missed in an infant or preschool-aged child, if in doubt, check the urine for glucose.) Symptoms in infants and toddlers may include the following:
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is much less common than hypoglycemia but is potentially far more serious, creating a life-threatening medical emergency.  Ketosis usually does not occur when insulin is present. In the absence of insulin, however, severe hyperglycemia, dehydration, and ketone production contribute to the development of DKA. The most serious complication of DKA is the development of cerebral edema, which increases the risk of death and long-term morbidity. Very young children at the time of first diagnosis are most likely to develop cerebral edema.
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:
Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.
Diabetes has often been referred to as a "silent disease" for two reasons: 1) Many people with Type 2 diabetes walk around with symptoms for many years, but are not diagnosed until they develop a complication of the disease, such as blindness, kidney disease, or heart disease; 2) There are no specific physical manifestations in individuals with diabetes. Therefore, unless a person chooses to disclose their disease, it is possible that friends and even family members may be unaware of a person's diagnosis.
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are too high to be considered normal but not high enough to be labeled diabetes. People have prediabetes if their fasting blood glucose level is between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL or if their blood glucose level 2 hours after a glucose tolerance test is between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL. Prediabetes carries a higher risk of future diabetes as well as heart disease. Decreasing body weight by 5 to 10% through diet and exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing future diabetes.
1. Monitoring of blood glucose status. In the past, urine testing was an integral part of the management of diabetes, but it has largely been replaced in recent years by self monitoring of blood glucose. Reasons for this are that blood testing is more accurate, glucose in the urine shows up only after the blood sugar level is high, and individual renal thresholds vary greatly and can change when certain medications are taken. As a person grows older and the kidney is less able to eliminate sugar in the urine, the renal threshold rises and less sugar is spilled into the urine. The position statement of the American Diabetes Association on Tests of Glycemia in Diabetes notes that urine testing still plays a role in monitoring in type 1 and gestational diabetes, and in pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes, as a way to test for ketones. All people with diabetes should test for ketones during times of acute illness or stress and when blood glucose levels are consistently elevated.
There are a number of rare cases of diabetes that arise due to an abnormality in a single gene (known as monogenic forms of diabetes or "other specific types of diabetes"). These include maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), Donohue syndrome, and Rabson–Mendenhall syndrome, among others. Maturity onset diabetes of the young constitute 1–5% of all cases of diabetes in young people.
Sources of processed or added sugar, including condiments, honey, and especially sugary drinks, are just a few of the potential culprits for weight gain, Grieger says, and it’s when they’re consumed in excess that they can contribute to diabetes risk. “The largest source of added sugar comes from sweetened beverages. They run the gamut of soda, sweetened tea, juices with added sugar, sports drinks — it’s a plethora. Just about everything we drink has added sugar in it, except for water,” she explains.
The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) was a clinical study conducted by the United States National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. Test subjects all had diabetes mellitus type 1 and were randomized to a tight glycemic arm and a control arm with the standard of care at the time; people were followed for an average of seven years, and people in the treatment had dramatically lower rates of diabetic complications. It was as a landmark study at the time, and significantly changed the management of all forms of diabetes.
DM is a strong independent predictor of short- and long-term recurrent ischemic events, including mortality, in acute coronary syndrome (ACS),6,7 including unstable angina and non-ST-elevation MI (NSTEMI),8 ST-elevation MI (STEMI) treated medically,9 and ACS undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).10,11 Furthermore, the concomitant presence of cardiovascular risk factors and comorbidities that negatively affect the outcomes of ACS is higher in DM patients.12
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.
People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, which means the body cannot use insulin properly to help glucose get into the cells. In people with type 2 diabetes, insulin doesn’t work well in muscle, fat, and other tissues, so your pancreas (the organ that makes insulin) starts to put out a lot more of it to try and compensate. "This results in high insulin levels in the body,” says Fernando Ovalle, MD, director of the multidisciplinary diabetes clinic at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. This insulin level sends signals to the brain that your body is hungry.