Written by eHealth Navigator

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism—the way the body uses digested food for growth and energy.
Most of the food people eat is broken down into glucose, the form of sugar in the blood. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream, where it is used by cells for growth and energy. For glucose to get into cells, insulin must be present.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach. When people eat, the pancreas automatically produces the right amount of insulin to move glucose from blood into the cells. In people with diabetes, however, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced. Glucose builds up in the blood, overflows into the urine, and passes out of the body in the urine. Thus, the body loses its main source of fuel even though the blood contains large amounts of glucose.

Type 1 diabetes is the condition when the cells in your pancreas that create insulin are destroyed.  (Sometimes called Juvenile Diabetes)  With this form of diabetes insulin injections are required to manage the disease.

Type 2 diabetes is the condition when your pancreas does not create enough insulin to regulate the proper use of glucose within your body.  Adjustments to diet and/or insulin shots can help you maintain a healthy life style.  According to the National Institute of Health an estimated 23.6 million people in the United States—7.8 percent of the population has diabetes, a serious, lifelong condition. Of those, 17.9 million have been diagnosed, and 5.7 million have not yet been diagnosed. In 2007, about 1.6 million people ages 20 or older were diagnosed with diabetes. This prevalence within adults 20 years or older is approximately 2.6% among adults age 20 to 39, 10.8% among ages 40 to 59, and 23.8% among ages 60 plus.

Symptoms of  Diabetes include:

•  Frequent urination
•  Excessive hunger and/or thirst
•  Unusual weight loss
•  Excessive fatigue or irritability
•  Frequent infections
•  Blurred vision
•  Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
•  Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
•  Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections

Often people with type 2 diabetes show little or no symptoms.

There are several types of comorbidities which are associated with diabetes.

Not to be confused as symptoms of diabetes, comorbidities are diseases or medical conditions that coexist with primary diseases, but also stands as it own specific disease. An example of this would be the relationship between diabetes and hypertension. A person can have hypertension and not have diabetes, but someone with diabetes frequently has hypertension. Thus, hypertension is referred to as a common comorbidity of diabetes. Other comorbidities of diabetes are listed below.

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dyslipidemia (Abnormal LDL, HDL, or triglycerides, increasking risk for heart attack)
  • Nonalcholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity

Treating Diabetes:

The treatment of diabetes depends on a number of factors including the type of diabetes a person has.  Type 1 is treated by a combination of a meal plan and a program of regular physical activity, both of which are designed on an individual basis.  Treatment also includes daily injections of insulin and education about this condition.  The more you know about diabetes, the better you can control it.  When it is under control, a person with diabetes can lead an active, healthy life.  However, uncontrolled diabetes can have serious health consequences.

Many people with Type 2 can control their diabetes by a combination of careful attention to meal plans and a program of regular physcial activity.  Sometimes, though, pills or insulin injections are necessary to achieve good control.

Everyone with diabetes, regardless of type, should monitor blood sugar levels regularly.  If you have diabetes, your doctor, diabetes educator or pharmacist will help you to develop a personalized treatment plan.  Part of this plan will be a schedule of blood sugar testing.  Be sure to follow this schedule and to record the results of the tests, because they provide a guideline for adjusting food, physical activity, and medicine to keep your diabetes under control. 

Another important test is a glycosylated hemoglobin test.  In addition to your guide regular self-monitoring of blood sugar levels, your doctor may recommend this test, which is done in a lab every three to six months.  It measures your average blood sugar level over a period of several months.

If you have diabetes, keeping the condition under control reduces your risk of kidney problems, blindness, heart attack, stroke, and nerve damage that can lead to gangrene and impotence.  In a young pregnant woman, controlling blood sugar levels increases her chances of delivering a normal healthy baby.  On the other hand, if you have diabetes and you do not take steps to control it, you can end up with serious, sometimes permanent, damage to your kidneys, eyes, nerves, and heart.

To learn more about diabetes click here videos, articles, key terms, key facts, doctor discussion (Type 1 or Type 2) or visit the American Diabetes Association.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 June 2014 9:25AM