Diabetes: An Overview

We’ve talked before about how diabetes can occur in conjunction with other diseases, such as anxiety, or contribute to certain medical conditions, such as radiculopathy. In this post we will be taking a broader look at diabetes and its complications.

Overview:

Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) refers to a group of diseases, including prediabetes, type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. While prediabetes and gestational diabetes can be reversible, types 1 and 2 are chronic and there is currently no cure.

Diabetes can occur either when the pancreas produces very little or no insulin, or when the body does not respond to the insulin that the pancreas does produce. In this post we will examine only types 1 and 2.

Type 1 diabetes typically appears during childhood or adolescence (it is also called juvenile diabetes), and the symptoms come on quickly and are more severe. Type 2 diabetes is more common, and more often occurs in people over 40 (it is often referred to as adult onset diabetes). Those with type 2 diabetes may not exhibit symptoms at first.

Symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Ketones in the urine
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty breathing

Additional symptoms experienced in Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Cuts or sores that are slow to heal
  • Infections
  • Itchy skin (often in the groin area)
  • Recent weight gain
  • Numbness or tingling of the hands and feet
  • Impotence or ED

Causes:

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. Scientists believe that Type 1 is caused by genetic and environmental factors, such as exposure to certain viruses.

Type 2 diabetes is caused primarily by lifestyle factors and genes. Some risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels
  • Family history (having a parent or sibling with diabetes increases risk)
  • Age
  • History of gestational diabetes while pregnant
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

Diagnosis:

Diabetes can be diagnosed based on blood tests that show a patient’s blood sugar levels, using a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test, random blood sugar test, fasting blood sugar test, and/or an oral glucose tolerance test.

With respect to type 1 diabetes, a patient’s urine will be analyzed for ketones, a byproduct produced when muscles and fat are used for energy when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to use available glucose.

Treatment:

While there is no cure for diabetes, ongoing monitoring and management of symptoms is required to prevent serious complications from occurring. Possible treatments include:

Lifestyle changes 

  • Diet/healthy eating
  • Exercise
  • Weight loss

Medication

  • Those with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin because it is no longer made by the body
  • Those with Type 2 may need to take insulin, but may also take different medications (such as metformin, which lowers the amount of glucose the liver makes)

Surgery

  • Bariatric surgery
  • Artificial pancreas
  • Pancreatic islet transplantation

Serious Complications:

Undiagnosted, untreated, or resistant to treatment, diabetes can have serious health consequences, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy), especially in the limbs (which left untreated can result in loss of feeling); nerve damage is also connected to problems with internal organs, weakness, weight-loss, and depression;
  • Kidney damage (nephropathy), which may result in the eventual need for dialysis or kidney transplant;
  • Eye damage (retinopathy), which may result in cataracts, glaucoma, or blindness;
  • Skin conditions, including bacterial and fungal infections;
  • Foot damage, which can often lead to the need for amputation;
  • Depression; and
  • Alzheimer’s disease (type 2 diabetes)—currently there is no agreed upon theory about why there is a correlation between the two diseases.

These posts are for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with and diagnosis by a medical professional. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described below and have yet to consult with a doctor, do not use this resource to self-diagnose. Please contact your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment to be evaluated for your symptoms.

References:

Center for Disease Control (CDC), www.cdc.gov
WebMD, webmd.com
Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.com
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, www.niddk.nih.gov
American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org