Over the next couple of weeks, the topic will be on one of the chronic diseases that affect people worldwide – Diabetes Mellitus.
Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas (an organ located behind your stomach). Normally, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin that helps your body store and use the sugar and fat from the food you eat.
Diabetes is a lifelong disease. As yet, there is no cure. People with diabetes learn to manage their disease to stay healthy.
To get a better grasp of diabetes, one must know why insulin is important to the body. To understand why insulin is important, it helps to know more about how the body uses food for energy. Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, these cells need food in a very simple form. When you eat or drink, much of your food is broken down into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose ("sugar") provides the energy your body needs for daily activities.
Your bloodstream transports glucose both from where it is taken into the body after eating (the intestines) and where it is manufactured (in the liver) to the cells where it will be used (muscles, brain, etc.) or stored (in the liver) or converted to fat (also in the liver). Figure 1 showing release of insulin.
When the amount of glucose in your blood reaches a certain level, your pancreas releases insulin. The insulin carries the glucose into the appropriate cells. As more glucose enters your cells, the level of glucose in your bloodstream drops.
Without insulin, the glucose can't be stored -- which allows the level of glucose in the blood to rise. Too much glucose in the blood is called "high blood sugar." By definition, diabetes is having a blood sugar level of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or more after an overnight fast.
Types of Diabetes Mellitus
Medically, there are different types of Diabetes but I will stick to the basic types in order not to confuse.
Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs because the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (called beta cells) are damaged. People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin injections to control their blood glucose.
The damage to the insulin-producing cells in type 1 diabetes occurs over a period of years. However, the symptoms of type 1 diabetes may occur over a period of days to weeks. Type 1 most commonly starts in people under the
age of 20, but may occur at any age.
Figure 2 & 3 showing diagrammatic view of types 1 & 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes. Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes produce insulin. However, the insulin they produce is either not enough or doesn't work properly in the body. When there isn't enough insulin or the insulin is not used, as it should be, glucose can't get into the body's cells.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes mellitus. It usually starts in people over age 40 who are overweight. But the rise in obesity in young people has caused a rise in type 2 diabetes in that age group. Some people can manage their type 2 diabetes by controlling their weight, watching their diet, and exercising regularly. Others may also need to take a tablet that helps them use their insulin better, or take insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes can also occur in people who are not obese. [see below: What Are the Risk Factors for Diabetes.]
Gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is triggered by pregnancy. Hormone changes during pregnancy can affect insulin's ability to work properly, resulting in high blood glucose levels.
Pregnant women who have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes are those who are over 25 years old, are above their normal body weight before pregnancy, have a family history of diabetes or are East Indian (Asian), Afro-Caribbean (African), or Native American.
Usually, blood glucose levels return to normal after childbirth. However, women who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes often occur suddenly and can be severe. They include:
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes may be the same as those listed above. Most often, there are no symptoms or a very gradual development of the above symptoms. Other symptoms may include:
Although the cause of diabetes is unknown, there are a number of risk factors that can increase the chance of one getting the disease. Risk factors such as:
A family history If a parent or sibling in your family has diabetes; your risk of developing diabetes is increased.
Race or ethnic background. The risk of diabetes is greater in East Indians (Asians), Afro-Caribbean (Africans), Hispanics, and Native Americans.
Being overweight. If you are 20% or more over your optimal body weight, you increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Hypertension (high blood pressure).
Abnormal cholesterol levels. Low HDL or "good" cholesterol level less than 35 mg/dL and/or a triglyceride level over 250 mg/dL increases your risk.
Age. Your risk of developing diabetes increases progressively as you get older.
Use of certain drugs:
Alcohol Use. Years of heavy alcohol intake increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Smoking. Smoking increases your risk.
History of gestational diabetes (developing diabetes during pregnancy) or of delivering babies over nine pounds.
Autoimmune disease. Your body's defense system (immune system) attacks healthy insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas.
Viruses. Some viruses are thought to play a part in diabetes development.
It is important to note that eating a lot of sugar, in and of itself, does not cause diabetes, but it can lead to tooth decay and obesity.
As mentioned at the beginning, this discussion will continue over the next few weeks since there are many issues about diabetes that is worth mentioning.
Excerpts taken from the Cleveland Clinic.