Diabetes refers to a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells.
What are the different types of diabetes?
There are two major types of diabetes. Type 1 (or insulin-dependent –diabetes mellitus (IDDM) and type 2 (non-insulin-dependent-diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Type 1 diabetes usually starts at an early age. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes. The pancreas does produce insulin in small quantities, but not enough to fuel the cells. The cells may also become resistant to the effects of what little insulin there is in the bloodstream. Many people have type 2 diabetes and are completely unaware of it. Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include diet, weight, race, age, lack of exercise, and heredity.
Gestational diabetes is a form of the condition that develops during pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect the body’s resistance to insulin. Most often, this condition disappears after delivery, but it seems to be a sign that the woman is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life.
Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) is a condition in which the glucose levels are above normal, but are not at diabetic levels.
If not properly controlled, diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, edema, nerve damage, and infections of the mouth, gums, lungs, skin, feet, bladder, and genital areas. Skin sores develop and fail to heal properly.
People with diabetes are subject to episodes of both high and low blood sugar. The symptoms of hyperglycemia (too much glucose in the blood) often include fatigue, a constant need to urinate, extreme thirst, constantly feeling hungry, loss of weight, and problems with eyesight.
Episodes of hypoglycemia (less than normal amounts of glucose in the blood), which strike suddenly, can be caused by a missed meal, too much exercise, or a reaction to too much insulin. The initial signs of hypoglycemia are hunger, dizziness, sweating, confusion, palpitations, and numbness or tingling of the lips. If not treated, the individual may go on to experience double vision, trembling, and disorientation, may act strangely, and may eventually lapse into a coma.
The major danger with diabetes, however, is not the disease itself, but the complications that can arise if insulin levels are not maintained at a constant level.
To understand diabetes, first you must understand how glucose is normally processed in the body.
Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, the 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 provides the energy your body needs for daily activities.
The blood vessels and blood are the highways that transport sugar from where it is either taken in (the stomach) or manufactured (in the liver) to the cells where it is used (muscles) or where it is stored (fat). Sugar isn’t able to go into the cells by itself. The pancreas releases insulin into the blood, which serves as the helper, or the “key,” that lets sugar into the cells for use as energy.
When sugar leaves the bloodstream and enters the cells, the blood sugar level is lowered. Without insulin, or the “key,” sugar can’t get into the body’s cells for use as energy. This causes sugar to rise. Too much sugar in the blood is called “hyperglycemia” (high blood sugar).