What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus (sometimes called “sugar diabetes”) is a condition that occurs when the body can’t use glucose (a type of sugar) normally. Glucose comes from the foods we eat and is the major source of energy needed to fuel the body’s functions. After you eat a meal, your body breaks down the foods you eat into glucose and other nutrients, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. The glucose level in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. Insulin is important as it allows glucose to leave the blood and enter the body’s cells. In people with diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body can’t respond normally to the insulin that is made (type 2 diabetes).
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes) results when the pancreas loses its ability to make the hormone insulin. With type 1 diabetes, the person’s own immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Once those cells are destroyed, they won’t ever make insulin again. Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, and there is no practical way to predict who will get it. Once a person has type 1 diabetes, it does not go away and requires lifelong treatment. People with type 1 diabetes depend on daily insulin injections or an insulin pump to control their blood glucose levels. 10 % Of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes) results from the body’s inability to respond to insulin normally. Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, most people with type 2 diabetes can still produce insulin, but not enough to meet their body’s needs.
This type of diabetes is diagnosed in pregnant women who have never had diabetes before, but have high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. High blood sugar levels occur in pregnancy and usually disappear after the mother gives birth. About 40% of gestational diabetes cases lead to Type 2 diabetes later on in life.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Common symptoms of both tpe 1 and type 2 diabetes include:
Fatigue, constantly tired: In diabetes, the body is inefficient and sometimes unable to use glucose for fuel. The body switches over to metabolizing fat, partially or completely, as a fuel source. This process requires the body to use more energy. The end result is feeling fatigued or constantly tired.
- Unexplained weight loss: People with diabetes are unable to process many of the calories in the foods they eat. Thus, they may lose weight even though they eat an apparently appropriate or even an excessive amount of food. Losing sugar and water in the urine and the accompanying dehydration also contributes to weight loss.
- Excessive thirst: A person with diabetes develops high blood sugar levels, which overwhelms the kidney’s ability to reabsorb the sugar as the blood is filtered to make urine. Excessive urine is made as the kidney spills the excess sugar. The body tries to counteract this by sending a signal to the brain to dilute the blood, which translates into thirst. The body encourages more water consumption to dilute the high blood sugar back to normal levels and to compensate for the water lost by excessive urination.
- Excessive urination: Another way the body tries to rid the body of the extra sugar in the blood is to excrete it in the urine. This can also lead to dehydration because a large amount of water is necessary to excrete the sugar.
- Excessive eating: If the body is able, it will secrete more insulin in order to try to manage the excessive blood sugar levels. Moreover, the body is resistant to the action of insulin in type 2 diabetes. One of the functions of insulin is to stimulate hunger. Therefore, higher insulin levels lead to increased hunger. Despite increased caloric intake, the person may gain very little weight and may even lose weight.
- Poor wound healing: High blood sugar levels prevent white blood cells, which are important in defending the body against bacteria and also in cleaning up dead tissue and cells, from functioning normally. When these cells do not function properly, wounds take much longer to heal and become infected more frequently. Long-standing diabetes also is associated with thickening of blood vessels, which prevents good circulation, including the delivery of enough oxygen and other nutrients to body tissues.
- Infections: Certain infections, such as frequent yeast infections of the genitals, skin infections, and frequent urinary tract infections, may result from suppression of the immune system by diabetes and by the presence of glucose in the tissues, which allow bacteria to grow. These infections can also be an indicator of poor blood sugar control in a person known to have diabetes.
- Altered mental status: Agitation, unexplained irritability, inattention, extreme lethargy, or confusion can all be signs of very high blood sugar, ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycemia nonketotic syndrome, or hypoglycemia (low sugar). Thus, any of these merit the immediate attention of a medical professional. Call your health care professional.