Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (the beta cells). As a result, the body is left without enough insulin to function normally (i.e. it becomes insulin deficient). This is called an autoimmune reaction, because the body attacks itself and produces antibodies to its own insulin-producing cells, thereby destroying them.
Weight fluctuations also fall under the umbrella of possible diabetes signs and symptoms. When you lose sugar through frequent urination, you also lose calories. At the same time, diabetes may keep the sugar from your food from reaching your cells — leading to constant hunger. The combined effect is potentially rapid weight loss, especially if you have type 1 diabetes.
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.
The typical symptoms of diabetes mellitus are the three “polys:” polyuria, polydipsia, and polyphagia. Because of insulin deficiency, the assimilation and storage of glucose in muscle adipose tissues, and the liver is greatly diminished. This produces an accumulation of glucose in the blood and creates an increase in its osmolarity. In response to this increased osmotic pressure there is depletion of intracellular water and osmotic diuresis. The water loss creates intense thirst and increased urination. The increased appetite (polyphagia) is not as clearly understood. It may be the result of the body's effort to increase its supply of energy foods even though eating more carbohydrates in the absence of sufficient insulin does not meet the energy needs of the cells.
How does type 2 diabetes progress over time? Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, meaning that the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar gets worse over time, despite careful management. Over time, the body’s cells become increasingly less responsive to insulin (increased insulin resistance) and beta cells in the pancreas produce less and less insulin (called beta-cell burnout). In fact, when people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they usually have already lost up to 50% or more of their beta cell function. As type 2 diabetes progresses, people typically need to add one or more different types of medications. The good news is that there are many more choices available for treatments, and a number of these medications don’t cause as much hypoglycemia, hunger and/or weight gain (e.g., metformin, pioglitazone, DPP-4 inhibitors, GLP-1 agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors, and better insulin). Diligent management early on can help preserve remaining beta cell function and sometimes slow progression of the disease, although the need to use more and different types of medications does not mean that you have failed.
There is evidence that certain emotions can promote type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that depression seems to predispose people to diabetes. Other research has tied emotional stress to diabetes, though the link hasn't been proved. Researchers speculate that the emotional connection may have to do with the hormone cortisol, which floods the body during periods of stress. Cortisol sends glucose to the blood, where it can fuel a fight-or-flight response, but overuse of this system may lead to dysfunction.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
What is hypoglycemia? A blood sugar level of under 70 mg/dl (3.9 mmol/l) is typically considered hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and can result in irritability, confusion, seizures, and even unconsciousness for extreme lows. To correct hypoglycemia, patients commonly use fast-acting carbohydrates. In extreme cases of severe hypoglycemia, a glucagon injection pen can be used. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of hypoglycemia are:
This is specific to type 2 diabetes. It occurs when insulin is produced normally in the pancreas, but the body is still unable move glucose into the cells for fuel. At first, the pancreas will create more insulin to overcome the body’s resistance. Eventually the cells “wear out.” At that point the body slows insulin production, leaving too much glucose in the blood. This is known as prediabetes. A person with prediabetes has a blood sugar level higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Unless tested, the person may not be aware, as there are no clear symptoms. Type 2 diabetes occurs as insulin production continues to decrease and resistance increases.
Whether you’re dealing with frequent UTIs or skin infections, undiagnosed diabetes may be to blame. The high blood sugar associated with diabetes can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infection. In more advanced cases of the disease, nerve damage and tissue death can open people up to further infections, often in the skin, and could be a precursor to amputation.
Type 2 diabetes is typically a chronic disease associated with a ten-year-shorter life expectancy. This is partly due to a number of complications with which it is associated, including: two to four times the risk of cardiovascular disease, including ischemic heart disease and stroke; a 20-fold increase in lower limb amputations, and increased rates of hospitalizations. In the developed world, and increasingly elsewhere, type 2 diabetes is the largest cause of nontraumatic blindness and kidney failure. It has also been associated with an increased risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia through disease processes such as Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Other complications include acanthosis nigricans, sexual dysfunction, and frequent infections.
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.
There’s no cure for type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, so it must be regularly injected into your body. Some people take injections into the soft tissue, such as the stomach, arm, or buttocks, several times per day. Other people use insulin pumps. Insulin pumps supply a steady amount of insulin into the body through a small tube.
Damage to small blood vessels can affect the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Damage to eyes, specifically the retina, is called diabetic retinopathy and is the leading cause of blindness. Damage to the kidneys, called diabetic nephropathy, can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis. Damage to the nerves that supply the legs and arms and gastrointestinal tract is called diabetic neuropathy. Some people with diabetes who develop peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves in the legs) and have poor blood flow to the legs may eventually need an amputation.
Previously, CGMs required frequent calibration with fingerstick glucose testing. Also their results were not accurate enough so that people always had to do a fingerstick to verify a reading on their CGM before calculating a dose of insulin (for example before meals or to correct a high blood sugar). However, recent technological advances have improved CGMs. One professional CGM can be worn for up to 14 days without calibration. Another personal CGM can be used to guide insulin dosing without confirmation by fingerstick glucose. Finally, there are now systems in which the CGM device communicates with insulin pumps to either stop delivery of insulin when blood glucose is dropping (threshold suspend), or to give daily insulin (hybrid closed loop system).
Regular ophthalmological examinations are recommended for early detection of diabetic retinopathy. The patient is educated about diabetes, its possible complications and their management, and the importance of adherence to the prescribed therapy. The patient is taught the importance of maintaining normal blood pressure levels (120/80 mm Hg or lower). Control of even mild-to-moderate hypertension results in fewer diabetic complications, esp. nephropathy, cerebrovascular disease, and cardiovascular disease. Limiting alcohol intake to approximately one drink daily and avoiding tobacco are also important for self-management. Emotional support and a realistic assessment of the patient's condition are offered; this assessment should stress that, with proper treatment, the patient can have a near-normal lifestyle and life expectancy. Long-term goals for a patient with diabetes should include achieving and maintaining optimal metabolic outcomes to prevent complications; modifying diet and lifestyle to prevent and treat obesity, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and nephropathy; improving physical activity; and allowing for the patient’s nutritional and psychosocial needs and preferences. Assistance is offered to help the patient develop positive coping strategies. It is estimated that 23 million Americans will be diabetic by the year 2030. The increasing prevalence of obesity coincides with the increasing incidence of diabetes; approx. 45% of those diagnosed receive optimal care according to established guidelines. According to the CDC, the NIH, and the ADA, about 40% of Americans between ages 40 and 74 have prediabetes, putting them at increased risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes with a focus on decreasing obesity can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes in 58% of this population. The patient and family should be referred to local and national support and information groups and may require psychological counseling.
Type 1 Diabetes: About 5 to 10 percent of those with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. It's an autoimmune disease, meaning the body's own immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Patients with type 1 diabetes have very little or no insulin, and must take insulin everyday. Although the condition can appear at any age, typically it's diagnosed in children and young adults, which is why it was previously called juvenile diabetes.
Some older people cannot control what they eat because someone else is cooking for them—at home or in a nursing home or other institution. When people with diabetes do not do their own cooking, the people who shop and prepare meals for them must also understand the diet that is needed. Older people and their caregivers usually benefit from meeting with a dietitian to develop a healthy, feasible eating plan.
interventions The goal of treatment is to maintain insulin glucose homeostasis. Type 1 diabetes is controlled by insulin, meal planning, and exercise. The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), completed in mid-1993, demonstrated that tight control of blood glucose levels (i.e., frequent monitoring and maintenance at as close to normal as possible to the level of nondiabetics) significantly reduces complications such as eye disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage. Type 2 diabetes is controlled by meal planning; exercise; one or more oral agents, in combination with oral agents; and insulin. The results of the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study, which involved more than 5000 people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes in the United Kingdom, were comparable to those of the DCCT where a relationship in microvascular complications. Stress of any kind may require medication adjustment in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The above tips are important for you. But it's also crucial to allow yourself time to cope with the diagnosis and commit to making lifestyle changes that will benefit you forever. The good news is the diabetes is a manageable disease; the tough part is that you must think about it daily. Consider finding support—someone that you can talk to about your struggles—be that a friend, another person with diabetes, or a loved one. This may seem trivial, but it truly can help you take control of diabetes so that it doesn't control you. Some next steps that may help you to get on the right track at this early stage in your journey:
As with many conditions, treatment of type 2 diabetes begins with lifestyle changes, particularly in your diet and exercise. If you have type 2 diabetes, speak to your doctor and diabetes educator about an appropriate diet. You may be referred to a dietitian. It is also a good idea to speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise program that is more vigourous than walking to determine how much and what kind of exercise is appropriate.
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.
To treat diabetic retinopathy, a laser is used to destroy and prevent the recurrence of the development of these small aneurysms and brittle blood vessels. Approximately 50% of patients with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy after 10 years of diabetes, and 80% retinopathy after 15 years of the disease. Poor control of blood sugar and blood pressure further aggravates eye disease in diabetes.
Exercise. A program of regular exercise gives anyone a sense of good health and well-being; for persons with diabetes it gives added benefits by helping to control blood glucose levels, promoting circulation to peripheral tissues, and strengthening the heart beat. In addition, there is evidence that exercise increases the number of insulin receptor sites on the surface of cells and thus facilitates the metabolism of glucose. Many specialists in diabetes consider exercise so important in the management of diabetes that they prescribe rather than suggest exercise.
Higher levels of sugar in the urine and the vagina can become a breeding ground for the bacteria and yeast that cause these infections. Recurrent infections are particularly worrisome. “Usually when you keep getting infections, doctors will check for diabetes if you don’t already have it,” says Cypress. “Even women who go to the emergency room for urinary tract infections are often checked.” Don’t miss these other silent diabetes complications you need to know about.
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.
Feeling famished all the time? Your body could be trying to tell you that something’s up with your blood sugar. Many people with diabetes experience extreme hunger when their condition is unmanaged, thanks to high blood sugar levels. When your body can’t effectively convert the sugar in your blood into usable energy, this may leave you pining for every sandwich or sweet you see. And if you’re looking for a filling snack that won’t put your health at risk, enjoy one of the 25 Best and Worst Low-Sugar Protein Bars!
Endocrinology is the specialty of medicine that deals with hormone disturbances, and both endocrinologists and pediatric endocrinologists manage patients with diabetes. People with diabetes may also be treated by family medicine or internal medicine specialists. When complications arise, people with diabetes may be treated by other specialists, including neurologists, gastroenterologists, ophthalmologists, surgeons, cardiologists, or others.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive, chronic disease related to your body's challenges with regulating blood sugar. It is often associated with generalized inflammation. Your pancreas produces the hormone insulin to convert sugar (glucose) to energy that you either use immediately or store. With type 2 diabetes, you are unable to use that insulin efficiently. Although your body produces the hormone, either there isn't enough of it to keep up with the amount of glucose in your system, or the insulin being produced isn't being used as well as it should be, both of which result in high blood sugar levels.
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
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.
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.
In Type II diabetes, the pancreas may produce enough insulin, however, cells have become resistant to the insulin produced and it may not work as effectively. Symptoms of Type II diabetes can begin so gradually that a person may not know that he or she has it. Early signs are lethargy, extreme thirst, and frequent urination. Other symptoms may include sudden weight loss, slow wound healing, urinary tract infections, gum disease, or blurred vision. It is not unusual for Type II diabetes to be detected while a patient is seeing a doctor about another health concern that is actually being caused by the yet undiagnosed diabetes.
Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one. For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with a combination of meal planning, physical activity, and taking oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.