All About Diabetes: An Overview
Diabetes is a chronic disease that is quickly becoming epidemic, currently affecting almost eight percent of the population in the United States.The American Diabetes Associations states that another seven million undiagnosed cases of diabetes, and almost 19 million cases of prediabetes.
The precise causes of the condition are not known, although researchers believe that genetics as well as viral, environmental or lifestyle factors play a role. There is no known cure for diabetes, but some types of diabetes are preventable.
Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose. In a healthy person, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin in response to any rise in glucose in the bloodstream. The insulin and glucose work together to provide food for the brain and fuel for the body's organs and cells. In diabetics, either the pancreas does not produce sufficient supplies of insulin or the body is unable to use insulin effectively. In either case, blood glucose levels rise beyond normal levels.
Diabetes is a treatable condition, but learning all about diabetes care and management is key to avoiding the many complications that can arise from uncontrolled blood glucose levels.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes because it usually strikes children and adolescents, accounts for roughly five percent of diagnosed cases of the disease. Since the pancreas stops producing any insulin, type 1 diabetics must be diligent about monitoring their blood glucose levels and supplying the body with insulin via injections.
Type 2 diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes since it used to strike adults primarily. More and more cases are now being seen of young children being diagnosed with the disease. The pancreas in many people suffering from type 2 diabetes continues to produce insulin, but the body is unable to effectively utilize it — a condition known as insulin resistance. Most type 2 diabetics can manage their disease through simple lifestyle changes and oral medications, and others can prevent the onset of the disease altogether.
Gestational diabetes affects less than one percent of those diagnosed with diabetes. It affects preganant women, and generally disappears once the baby is delivered.
No matter what type of diabetes, the signs and symptoms are primarily the same, including:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Sudden and rapid weight loss
Those suffering from type 2 diabetes may never show symptoms, or the onset is so slow that it could take months or years before the symptoms are recognized.
The course of treatment for all diabetics is medication, following a heart-healthy diet and participating in regular physical activity. Type 1 diabetics must either take several insulin injections every day, or use an insulin pump. Very few type 2 diabetics must take insulin, and most are able to manage the disease through oral medicaitons.
Day-to-day management of diabetes is a delicate balancing act for as diabetics strive to keep their blood glucose levels in the normal range of 70 mg/dl to 120 mg/dl. Consuming carbohydrates, a lack of insulin and physical or mental stress all raise blood glucose levels, while physical activity and insulin or other oral diabetes medications help to lower blood glucose levels. Those suffering from diabetes must check their blood glucose levels several times per day using a glucose meter to determine what types of foods they can eat and in what portions, and how much medication they should take.
When blood glucose levels rise above 120 mg/dl, a condition known as hyperglycemia sets in. Prolonged or uncontrolled bouts of hyperglycemia cause long-term medical complications including heart, kidney or liver disease, blindness or neuropathy.
Hypoglycemia occurs when blood glucose levels dip below 70 mg/dl. If not treated quickly by consuming sugar or other simple carbohydrate, it can result in dizziness, shakiness, unconsciousness, seizures, brain damage or death.
American Diabetes Association: Statistics
Mayo Clinic: Type 1 Diabetes
National Institutes of Health: Type 2 Diabetes