There are two major types of diabetes, called type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes was also formerly called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), or juvenile-onset diabetes mellitus. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas undergoes an autoimmune attack by the body itself, and is rendered incapable of making insulin. Abnormal antibodies have been found in the majority of patients with type 1 diabetes. Antibodies are proteins in the blood that are part of the body's immune system. The patient with type 1 diabetes must rely on insulin medication for survival.
The diabetic patient should learn to recognize symptoms of low blood sugar (such as confusion, sweats, and palpitations) and high blood sugar (such as, polyuria and polydipsia). When either condition results in hospitalization, vital signs, weight, fluid intake, urine output, and caloric intake are accurately documented. Serum glucose and urine ketone levels are evaluated. Chronic management of DM is also based on periodic measurement of glycosylated hemoglobin levels (HbA1c). Elevated levels of HbA1c suggest poor long-term glucose control. The effects of diabetes on other body systems (such as cerebrovascular, coronary artery, and peripheral vascular) should be regularly assessed. Patients should be evaluated regularly for retinal disease and visual impairment and peripheral and autonomic nervous system abnormalities, e.g., loss of sensation in the feet. The patient is observed for signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, e.g., numbness or pain in the hands and feet, decreased vibratory sense, footdrop, and neurogenic bladder. The urine is checked for microalbumin or overt protein losses, an early indication of nephropathy. The combination of peripheral neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease results in changes in the skin and microvasculature that lead to ulcer formation on the feet and lower legs with poor healing. Approx. 45,000 lower-extremity diabetic amputations are performed in the U.S. each year. Many amputees have a second amputation within five years. Most of these amputations are preventable with regular foot care and examinations. Diabetic patients and their providers should look for changes in sensation to touch and vibration, the integrity of pulses, capillary refill, and the skin. All injuries, cuts, and blisters should be treated promptly. The patient should avoid constricting hose, slippers, shoes, and bed linens or walking barefoot. The patient with ulcerated or insensitive feet is referred to a podiatrist for continuing foot care and is warned that decreased sensation can mask injuries.
Fatigue and muscle weakness occur because the glucose needed for energy simply is not metabolized properly. Weight loss in type 1 diabetes patients occurs partly because of the loss of body fluid and partly because in the absence of sufficient insulin the body begins to metabolize its own proteins and stored fat. The oxidation of fats is incomplete, however, and the fatty acids are converted into ketone bodies. When the kidney is no longer able to handle the excess ketones the patient develops ketosis. The overwhelming presence of the strong organic acids in the blood lowers the pH and leads to severe and potentially fatal ketoacidosis.
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
Nerve damage (neuropathy). Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish your nerves, especially in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. Poorly controlled blood sugar can eventually cause you to lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. Damage to the nerves that control digestion can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, erectile dysfunction may be an issue.
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.
When the blood glucose level rises above 160 to 180 mg/dL, glucose spills into the urine. When the level of glucose in the urine rises even higher, the kidneys excrete additional water to dilute the large amount of glucose. Because the kidneys produce excessive urine, people with diabetes urinate large volumes frequently (polyuria). The excessive urination creates abnormal thirst (polydipsia). Because excessive calories are lost in the urine, people may lose weight. To compensate, people often feel excessively hungry.
In an otherwise healthy individual, blood glucose levels usually do not rise above 180 mg/dL (9 mmol/L). In a child with diabetes, blood sugar levels rise if insulin is insufficient for a given glucose load. The renal threshold for glucose reabsorption is exceeded when blood glucose levels exceed 180 mg/dL (10 mmol/L), causing glycosuria with the typical symptoms of polyuria and polydipsia. (See Pathophysiology, Clinical, and Treatment.)
Polyuria is defined as an increase in the frequency of urination. When you have abnormally high levels of sugar in your blood, your kidneys draw in water from your tissues to dilute that sugar, so that your body can get rid of it through the urine. The cells are also pumping water into the bloodstream to help flush out sugar, and the kidneys are unable to reabsorb this fluid during filtering, which results in excess urination.
Clear evidence suggests a genetic component in type 1 diabetes mellitus. Monozygotic twins have a 60% lifetime concordance for developing type 1 diabetes mellitus, although only 30% do so within 10 years after the first twin is diagnosed. In contrast, dizygotic twins have only an 8% risk of concordance, which is similar to the risk among other siblings.
Although this complication is not seen in pediatric patients, it is a significant cause of morbidity and premature mortality in adults with diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes mellitus have twice the risk of fatal myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke that people unaffected with diabetes do; in women, the MI risk is 4 times greater. People with type 1 diabetes mellitus also have 4 times greater risk for atherosclerosis.
Although the signs of diabetes can begin to show early, sometimes it takes a person a while to recognize the symptoms. This often makes it seem like signs and symptoms of diabetes appear suddenly. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your body, rather than simply brushing them off. To that end, here are some type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms that you may want to watch out for:
n a metabolic disorder caused primarily by a defect in the production of insulin by the islet cells of the pancreas, resulting in an inability to use carbohydrates. Characterized by hyperglycemia, glycosuria, polyuria, hyperlipemia (caused by imperfect catabolism of fats), acidosis, ketonuria, and a lowered resistance to infection. Periodontal manifestations if blood sugar is not being controlled may include recurrent and multiple periodontal abscesses, osteoporotic changes in alveolar bone, fungating masses of granulation tissue protruding from periodontal pockets, a lowered resistance to infection, and delay in healing after periodontal therapy. See also blood glucose level(s).
The American Diabetes Association sponsored an international panel in 1995 to review the literature and recommend updates of the classification of diabetes mellitus. The definitions and descriptions that follow are drawn from the Report of the Expert Committee on the Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus. The report was first approved in 1997 and modified in 1999. Although other terms are found in older literature and remain in use, their use in current clinical practice is inappropriate. Epidemiologic and research studies are facilitated by use of a common language.
Janis McWilliams, RN, MSN, CDE, BC-ADM, responds: Yes, in type 1 diabetes in particular, the onset of symptoms like frequent urination and extreme thirst can be very sudden. In type 2 diabetes, the symptoms tend to come about more gradually, and sometimes there are no signs at all. People who have symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately for an accurate diagnosis. Keep in mind that these symptoms could signal other problems, too.
Because people with type 2 diabetes produce some insulin, ketoacidosis does not usually develop even when type 2 diabetes is untreated for a long time. Rarely, the blood glucose levels become extremely high (even exceeding 1,000 mg/dL). Such high levels often happen as the result of some superimposed stress, such as an infection or drug use. When the blood glucose levels get very high, people may develop severe dehydration, which may lead to mental confusion, drowsiness, and seizures, a condition called hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state. Currently, many people with type 2 diabetes are diagnosed by routine blood glucose testing before they develop such severely high blood glucose levels.
If you are at increased risk of diabetes, have symptoms of diabetes, or have pre-diabetes (a major warning sign for diabetes), your doctor will check to see if you have diabetes. Your doctor may also check to see if you have diabetes if you are over the age of 45, have a family history of the disease, are overweight, or if you are at increased risk for another reason. The tests used to check for diabetes are the same tests used to check for pre-diabetes.
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.
Over time, a prolonged exposure to high blood sugar can damage the nerves throughout the body — a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Some people may not have any symptoms of the damage, while others may notice numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities. “At the beginning, [diabetic neuropathy] usually starts in the feet and then it progresses upward,” says Dr. Ovalle. Although most common in people who have had type 2 diabetes for 25 years or more, it can occur in people who have prediabetes as well. In some studies, almost 50 percent of unexplained peripheral neuropathy [in the extremities], whether painful or otherwise, turns out to be caused by prediabetes or diabetes, says Dr. Einhorn.