Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the body has trouble using the sugar it gets from food for energy. Sugar builds up in the bloodstream. High blood sugar can have immediate effects, like blurry vision. It can also cause problems over time, like heart disease and blindness.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes (once called juvenile-onset diabetes) and type 2 diabetes (once called adult-onset diabetes). Both are caused by problems making or using insulin, a hormone that makes it possible for cells to use glucose, also known as blood sugar, for energy.

When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose. It also produces a hormone called insulin that signals the body's cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't make enough insulin, or stops making it altogether. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body's cells don't respond to insulin. Either way, since sugar can't get into cells, it builds up in the bloodstream. 

Too much sugar in the blood can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms. These include:

  • blurry vision
  • intense thirst
  • need to urinate often
  • fatigue
  • numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Type 1 diabetes often comes on suddenly. It usually strikes children and teenagers, but can appear later in life. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning it happens because the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the body's insulin-making cells. Type 1 diabetes can't be cured, but it can be managed by taking insulin before eating.

Type 2 diabetes takes longer to develop. It can begin any time from childhood onward. Type 2 diabetes is usually triggered by being overweight or obese and not getting much physical activity. Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes weight loss if needed, daily exercise, a healthy diet, and medications.

Diabetes Articles

Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY)

Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) is an inherited form of diabetes mellitus. It is caused by a change in one of eleven genes. Up to 5% of all diabetes cases may be due to MODY. Just like other people with diabetes, people with MODY have trouble regulating their blood sugar levels. This disorder is more like type 1 diabetes than type 2, although it can be confused with either type. In type 1, the pancreas cannot make and release enough insulin. People with type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, usually make enough insulin, but their bodies cannot respond to it effectively (known as insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight, but that is not true of type 1 diabetes or MODY. However, obesity does matter. An obese person with a MODY gene mutation may develop symptoms of diabetes sooner than someone of normal weight. (Locked) More »

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a potentially fatal complication of diabetes that occurs when you have much less insulin than your body needs. This problem causes the blood to become acidic and the body to become dangerously dehydrated. Diabetic ketoacidosis can occur when diabetes is not treated adequately, or it can occur during times of serious sickness. To understand this illness, you need to understand the way your body powers itself with sugar and other fuels. Foods we eat are broken down by the body, and much of what we eat becomes glucose (a type of sugar), which enters the bloodstream. Insulin helps glucose to pass from the bloodstream into body cells, where it is used for energy. Insulin normally is made by the pancreas, but people with type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes) don't produce enough insulin and must inject it daily. Your body needs a constant source of energy. When you have plenty of insulin, your body cells can get all the energy they need from glucose. If you don't have enough insulin in your blood, your liver is programmed to manufacture emergency fuels. These fuels, made from fat, are called ketones (or ketoacids). In a pinch, ketones can give you energy. However, if your body stays dependent on ketones for energy for too long, you soon will become ill. Ketones are acidic chemicals that are toxic at high concentrations. In diabetic ketoacidosis, ketones build up in the blood, seriously altering the normal chemistry of the blood and interfering with the function of multiple organs. They make the blood acidic, which causes vomiting and abdominal pain. If the acid level of the blood becomes extreme, ketoacidosis can cause falling blood pressure, coma and death. Ketoacidosis is always accompanied by dehydration, which is caused by high levels of glucose in the blood. Glucose builds up in the blood if there is not enough insulin to move glucose into your cells. During an episode of ketoacidosis, it is common for blood sugar to rise to a level over 400 milligrams per deciliter. When blood sugar levels are so high, some sugar "overflows" into the urine. As sugar is carried away in the urine, water, salt and potassium are drawn into the urine with each sugar molecule, and your body loses large quantities of your fluid and electrolytes, which are minerals that play a crucial role in cell function. As this happens, you produce much more urine than normal. Eventually it may become impossible for you to drink enough fluids to keep up with amounts that you urinate. Vomiting caused by the blood's acidity also contributes to fluid losses and dehydration. People with type 1 diabetes are at risk of diabetic ketoacidosis. If you have type 1 diabetes, ketoacidosis can occur because you have stopped taking your insulin injections or because your insulin dose is too low. It can be triggered by an infection or severe physical stress, such as an injury or surgery, because your body can need more insulin than usual during these stresses. Ketoacidosis rarely occurs in people with type 2 diabetes. In most people who have type 2 diabetes, blood insulin levels usually do not get low enough to signal the liver to make ketones. In about 25% of children with diabetes, symptoms from ketoacidosis are the first sign that they have diabetes. (Locked) More »

Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body does not make enough insulin to control blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes was previously called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes. During digestion, food is broken down into basic components. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, primarily glucose. Glucose is a critically important source of energy for the body's cells. To provide energy to the cells, glucose needs to leave the blood and get inside the cells. Insulin traveling in the blood signals the cells to take up glucose. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When levels of glucose in the blood rise, like following a meal, the pancreas normally produces more insulin. Type 1 diabetes occurs when some or all of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. This leaves the patient with little or no insulin. Without insulin, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream rather than entering the cells. As a result, the body cannot use this glucose for energy. (Locked) More »

Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease. It is characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood. Type 2 diabetes is also called type 2 diabetes mellitus and adult-onset diabetes. However, more and more children and teens are developing this condition. Since type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes, it often is just called "diabetes". During digestion, food is broken down into basic components. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, primarily glucose. Glucose is a critically important source of energy for the body's cells. To provide energy to the cells, glucose needs to leave the blood and get inside the cells. Insulin traveling in the blood signals the cells to take up glucose. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When levels of glucose in the blood rise (for example, after a meal), the pancreas produces more insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body's cells do not react efficiently to insulin. This condition is called insulin resistance. The cells do not accept as much glucose from the blood as they should. The cells resist the effects of insulin. As a result, glucose starts to build up in the blood. In people with insulin resistance, the pancreas "sees" the blood glucose level rising. The pancreas responds by making extra insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar. Over time, the body's insulin resistance gets worse. In response the pancreas makes more and more insulin. Finally, the pancreas gets "exhausted". It cannot keep up with the demand for more and more insulin. As a result, blood glucose levels stay high. (Locked) More »

Pre-Diabetes

In pre-diabetes, blood sugar levels are slightly higher than normal, but still not as high as in diabetes. If diabetes is "runaway blood sugar" think of pre-diabetes as blood sugar that is "halfway out the door." People almost always develop pre-diabetes before they get type 2 diabetes. The rise in blood sugar levels that is seen in pre-diabetes starts when the body begins to develop a problem called "insulin resistance." Insulin is an important hormone that helps you to process glucose (blood sugar). If usual amounts of insulin can't trigger the body to move glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells, then you have insulin resistance. Having pre-diabetes does not automatically mean you will get diabetes, but it does put you at an increased risk. Pre-diabetes is also a risk factor for heart disease. Like people with type 2 diabetes, those with pre-diabetes tend to be overweight, have high blood pressure and have unhealthy cholesterol levels. (Locked) More »

Diabetic Neuropathies

Diabetic neuropathies are nerve disorders that affect people with diabetes. They occur more often in people with persistently high blood sugar levels. There are several different diabetic neuropathies. They include: Peripheral neuropathy. This is the most common type. It affects the longest nerves in the body. These nerves are part of the peripheral nervous system. This is the network of nerves that carry signals from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body and back. The most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are numbness or pain in the feet and lower legs. Autonomic neuropathy. This neuropathy damages collections of nerves that control your unconscious body functions. It may affect your digestion, your circulation and your sexual function. Localized nerve failures (focal neuropathy). A nerve that controls a single muscle can lose its function. For example, focal neuropathy may cause problems with eye movement that result in double vision. Or it may cause drooping of one cheek. Diabetic neuropathies occur in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. They are most common in people whose blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are not well controlled. Diabetic neuropathies can occur in people who have had diabetes for a short time. But they are most likely to affect those who have had the disease for more than a decade. It is also more common in people older than 40. Diabetics who smoke are especially at risk. Diabetic neuropathy results from several changes in the nerves. But the specific cause of neuropathy is not completely understood. A persistently high concentration of blood sugar surrounding nerve cells definitely plays a role. The nerve cells must adjust their internal sugar content to be in balance with their surroundings. To do so, nerve cells make and store the sugar sorbitol. Sorbitol can gradually damage nerve cells. (Locked) More »