A patient’s guide to diabetes.
Causes, symptoms, treatment and more
An overview of diabetes
Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affect how the body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to one’s health because it is a source of energy for the cells that make up the muscles and tissues. It is also the brain’s main source of fuel .
Types of diabetes
Three major types of diabetes can develop; type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
Also known as juvenile diabetes. This type occurs when the body fails to produce insulin. Normally, the pancreas (an organ behind the stomach) releases insulin to help the body store and use sugar and fat from the food one consumes. Type 1 diabetes can occur when the pancreas produces very little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes are insulin-dependent, which means they must take artificial insulin daily to stay alive.
Type 2 diabetes
This affects the way the body uses insulin. While the body still makes insulin, unlike type 1, the cells in the body do not respond to it as effectively as they once did. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and has a strong link with obesity.
This type occurs in women during pregnancy when the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. Gestational diabetes does not occur in all women and usually resolves after giving birth.
The underlying cause of diabetes varies by the type.
Causes of type 1 diabetes
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. What is known is that the immune system which fights harmful bacteria or viruses attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This leads to the production of little or no insulin. Genetic susceptibility and environmental factors contribute to type 1 diabetes.
Causes of type 2 diabetes
Genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes as well as being overweight.
Causes of gestational diabetes
During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones to sustain the pregnancy. The hormones make cells more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by producing extra insulin to overcome the resistance. When the pancreas is not able to keep up, little glucose gets into the cells and too much stays in the blood, resulting in gestational diabetes.
- Family history
- Environmental factors – such as exposure to viral illness
- Weight – the more fatty tissue one has, the more resistant the cells become to insulin
- Race – Black people, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian – Americans are at higher risk
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- High blood pressure
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Symptoms of diabetes include;
- Increased thirst (polydipsia)
- Increased hunger (polyphagia)
- Excessive urination (polyuria)
- Blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- Unexplained weight loss
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes starts quickly, in a matter of weeks. Symptoms of type 2 often develop slowly, over the course of several years.
Long – term complications of diabetes develop gradually. The longer one has diabetes and the blood sugar is less controlled, the higher risk of complications. Possible complications include :
- Cardiovascular disease
Diabetes increases the risk of various cardiovascular problems such as coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
Excess sugar injures the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that nourishes the nerves, especially in the legs. This causes tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward.
- Kidney damage (nephropathy)
The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that filter waste from the blood. Diabetes causes damages to these vessels, leading to kidney failure.
- Eye damage (retinopathy)
Diabetes damages blood vessels of the retina, potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma.
- Foot damage
- Skin conditions
- Hearing impairment
- Alzheimer’s disease
The major goal in treating type 1 and type 2 diabetes is to control blood sugar levels within the normal range.
Type 1 diabetes is treated with ;
- Diet – whole grains , fruits , non – fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, poultry or fish.
People with diabetes benefit from eating small meals throughout the day, instead of eating one or two heavy meals .
Type 2 diabetes is treated with ;
- weight reduction (exercise)
- Medications – metformin, sulfonylureas, meglitinides, insulin.
READ MORE ON DIABETES
1. Rachel N, January 2020. An overview of diabetes, types and treatment. Available at https://www. medicalnewstoday.com.
2. Robert F, August 2018. Diabetes treatment. Available at https://www.medicinenet.com.
3. Mayo Clinic. Diabetes. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.com
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