Your body is like a car—it needs fuel to function. Its primary source of fuel is glucose (sugar), which is gained from foods that contain carbohydrates that get broken down. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, takes sugar from your blood to your cells to use for energy. However, when you have diabetes, either your pancreas isn't making enough insulin or the insulin that your body is making isn't being used the way it's supposed to be, typically because the cells become resistant to it.
Diabetic neuropathy is probably the most common complication of diabetes. Studies suggest that up to 50% of people with diabetes are affected to some degree. Major risk factors of this condition are the level and duration of elevated blood glucose. Neuropathy can lead to sensory loss and damage to the limbs. It is also a major cause of impotence in diabetic men.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is more common than type 1 diabetes with about 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes having T2D. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the US population have diabetes.1 More alarming, an estimated 84 million more American adults have prediabetes, which if not treated, will advance to diabetes within five years.1
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).
People with glucose levels between normal and diabetic have impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or insulin resistance. People with impaired glucose tolerance do not have diabetes, but are at high risk for progressing to diabetes. Each year, 1% to 5% of people whose test results show impaired glucose tolerance actually eventually develop diabetes. Weight loss and exercise may help people with impaired glucose tolerance return their glucose levels to normal. In addition, some physicians advocate the use of medications, such as metformin (Glucophage), to help prevent/delay the onset of overt diabetes.
Type II is considered a milder form of diabetes because of its slow onset (sometimes developing over the course of several years) and because it usually can be controlled with diet and oral medication. The consequences of uncontrolled and untreated Type II diabetes, however, are the just as serious as those for Type I. This form is also called noninsulin-dependent diabetes, a term that is somewhat misleading. Many people with Type II diabetes can control the condition with diet and oral medications, however, insulin injections are sometimes necessary if treatment with diet and oral medication is not working.
Insulin is a hormone that — in people without diabetes — ferries glucose, or blood sugar, to cells for energy or to be stored for later use. In people with diabetes, cells are resistant to insulin; as a result of this insulin resistance, sugar accumulates in the blood. While eating sugar by itself does not cause insulin resistance, Grieger says, foods with sugar and fat can contribute to weight gain, thereby reducing insulin sensitivity in the body.
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.
A proper diet and exercise are the foundations of diabetic care, with a greater amount of exercise yielding better results. Exercise improves blood sugar control, decreases body fat content and decreases blood lipid levels, and these effects are evident even without weight loss. Aerobic exercise leads to a decrease in HbA1c and improved insulin sensitivity. Resistance training is also useful and the combination of both types of exercise may be most effective.
Although many of the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are similar, they present in very different ways. Many people with type 2 diabetes won’t have symptoms for many years. Then often the symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop slowly over the course of time. Some people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms at all and don’t discover their condition until complications develop.
Several other signs and symptoms can mark the onset of diabetes although they are not specific to the disease. In addition to the known ones above, they include blurred vision, headache, fatigue, slow healing of cuts, and itchy skin. Prolonged high blood glucose can cause glucose absorption in the lens of the eye, which leads to changes in its shape, resulting in vision changes. Long-term vision loss can also be caused by diabetic retinopathy. A number of skin rashes that can occur in diabetes are collectively known as diabetic dermadromes.
Indigestion (dyspepsia) can be caused by diseases or conditions that involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and also by some diseases and conditions that do not involve the GI tract. Indigestion can be a chronic condition in which the symptoms fluctuate infrequency and intensity. Signs and symptoms that accompany indigestion include pain in the chest, upper abdominal pain, belching, nausea, bloating, abdominal distention, feeling full after eating only a small portion of food, and rarely, vomiting.
And remember not to let others scare you into thinking the worst. Getting educated will help you to understand that a diabetes diagnosis, while serious, is not the end of the world. For some people, lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise can actually get blood sugars below the diabetes threshold. You can control your diabetes and not let it control you.
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.
Type 2 diabetes is different. A person with type 2 diabetes still produces insulin but the body doesn't respond to it normally. Glucose is less able to enter the cells and do its job of supplying energy (a problem called insulin resistance). This raises the blood sugar level, so the pancreas works hard to make even more insulin. Eventually, this strain can make the pancreas unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.
You have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes if you are older, have obesity, have a family history of diabetes, or do not exercise. Having prediabetes also increases your risk. Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, you may be able to delay or prevent developing it by making some lifestyle changes.
You should expect your dentist to inquire about how you monitor your blood sugar and your current status (e.g. most recent HbA1c, medication profile). For most routine dental procedures (e.g. examinations, simple fillings, routine cleanings), no special alterations in the delivery of dental care are necessary. However, more involved procedures, such as extensive surgery or treatment of serious infection, may interfere with your normal diabetes management. For such cases, your dentist will work with your physician to ensure the most appropriate approach to care is undertaken. For example, if you need a surgical procedure that will temporarily interfere with your ability to eat, special modifications regarding your nutrition and medication dosing may be prescribed. Finally, if you notice any unusual changes in your mouth (e.g. swelling, pain, red areas) you should see your dentist as soon as possible. These changes may indicate the presence of an infection that may compromise your normal blood sugar control and lead to a worsening of your ability to fight infection. As a result, your infection could become more difficult to treat.
But preventing the disease from progressing if you already have it requires first being able to spot the signs and symptoms of diabetes when they appear. While some type 2 diabetes symptoms may not ever show up, you can watch out for the following common signs of the disease and alert your doctor, especially if you have any of the common risk factors for diabetes. Also keep in mind that while most signs of type 2 diabetes are the same in men and women, there are some distinctions.