Diabetes affects millions of people every year. At a basic level, the disease affects the level of blood glucose in the bloodstream which then causes the cells in all parts of the body to not receive the appropriate tools to make energy. Consequently, other major medical problems may occur. There are two main forms of diabetes, and there is no known cure for either of the forms at this time, but rest assured that if you or someone you know has been affected by the disease, there are many successful treatments available that have proven to allow sufferers to lead perfectly normal lives. Understanding this disease in its entirety is important when treating it and preventing it, so ask the question; What is diabetes?
The inner workings of diabetes can be quite involved, but to begin in brief, if you have diabetes, it means your body does not have careful control over how much glucose it keeps in your bloodstream. This can result from different deficiencies depending on the form of diabetes you carry, but it will have to do with the pancreas, insulin, and the way in which your cells absorb and use insulin.
It is one of the jobs of our metabolism to maintain a steady level of blood glucose (sugar) in our bloodstream. All of our body’s cells need energy to function, and they get their energy from glucose. When you eat an apple, it is turned into sugar, or glucose, by various stages of the digestive tract. In fact, the saliva in your mouth has digestive enzymes in it that start digesting your food the minute you bite into it.
After food comes into contact with several different digestive enzymes in the mouth and stomach, it enters the small intestine where it is exposed to insulin, a key enzyme in the digestive process. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, a small digestive organ. The job of the insulin is to attach to the converted glucose and essentially guide it as it travels through the rest of the digestive tract and into the bloodstream. The insulin then helps your cells convert the glucose into energy that can be used by those cells. The glucose cannot be converted to usable energy without insulin; it is vital. In a diabetic-free person, the pancreas makes enough insulin to deal with all of the foods you eat.
Additionally, we must discuss blood glucose levels. In the morning, a healthy person’s fasting blood sugar (meaning the level of glucose in their blood after not having eaten anything for the entire night) is around 90. After a meal, the blood sugar peaks about an hour later, and after 2 hours, it goes back down to a normal level. If you have diabetes, your fasting blood sugar might be around 125 or more; this is too high to begin with. The glucose in your bloodstream is not being converted to energy. After a meal, your blood glucose level will go even higher, and it stays there for a long time before descending. Having either too much or too little glucose in your blood can not only cause you to feel unstable or faint, but it can also damage your kidneys, liver, and eyesight. People with untreated diabetes often lose their eyesight as they grow older.
Types of Diabetes
In patients with diabetes there is either a problem with the pancreas or the way in which the insulin is being used. This all depends on what type of diabetes you have. There are two main types, simply called: Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes was formerly called juvenile onset diabetes and is typically diagnosed before a patient reaches his or her 20s. Type 1 patients are generally quite thin. The issue in these patients’ bodies has to do with the pancreas, which has been destroyed by autoantibodies and is no longer producing insulin for the patient’s body, therefore energy from the food he or she eats cannot be obtained. This can cause failures of the body’s organs and other serious issues.
Approximately 10-15% of Americans suffer from type 1 diabetes. To treat this form of the disease, patients need to first of all check their blood glucose levels regularly. Often, they can help control their levels with their diet, making sure to eat the right foods at regular intervals so that their levels don’t drop. Patients of type 1 diabetes may have to get insulin from injections or an insulin pump if they have extreme levels. Often you will see type 1 diabetes patients carrying a candy bar or bottle of orange juice with them wherever they go. That way, if they are caught with an extremely low blood sugar level, they can eat the candy or drink the juice and solve the problem at least temporarily with a “spike” of sugar in the blood.
Type 2 diabetes was formerly called adult onset diabetes, because it occurs generally in those who are older–over 35. Patients of type 2 diabetes tend to be overweight. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces enough insulin, but the glucose is not responsive to it. This is also known as insulin-resistance. There is a lot of insulin around, but it doesn’t work as it should. Lifestyle treatments are most often recommended for those with type 2 diabetes. The patient should lose weight as soon as possible if this is an issue, and it often is. Diet and exercise are highly recommended. Not only should the patient eat less food to lose weight and cut calorie-intake in general, but he or she should also choose healthy foods: lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits (but not too many of these and some may be omitted from the “OK” fruits list–talk with your doctor). If diet does not suffice in handling the disease, oral meds may be prescribed to the patient as well. Eventually someone with type 2 diabetes might need to take insulin.
The tendency for type 2 diabetes to occur genetically is very strong. Furthermore, type 2 doesn’t just affect the insulin production and blood glucose levels themselves. Type 2 diabetes is also closely associated with heart disease, therefore, along with treating the diabetes itself, cholesterol and blood pressure must be monitored closely and treated as well.
Today diabetes is a big problem–especially type 2 which can often be avoided altogether and/or largely treated with diet and exercise. It should be noted that medical officials decided to change the names of both diabetes type 1 and type 2, because it is now known that anyone can get either type of the disease at any age.
Symptoms of Diabetes
To figure out if you have diabetes, examine the most common symptoms which include: being thirsty or hungry all the time, frequent urination, extreme weight loss, extreme fatigue, changes in vision or blurred vision, itchy skin, and cuts that don’t heal. If you are concerned, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. You should already be getting basic blood tests (for blood sugar levels, cholesterol, kidney and liver health, etc.) at least once a year, but if you haven’t had these tests in a while, your doctor will likely have you get them. Among the tests, you will take the fasting plasma glucose test and the random glucose test. These tests may be conducted several times for accuracy, but basically, levels of 126 mg/dl and above on the fasting plasma glucose test and a levels of 200 mg/dl and above on the random glucose test will likely result in a diabetes diagnosis.
If you find yourself met with this diagnosis, do not despair. As stated, even if you have diabetes, you can live a perfectly normal life. If you are diagnosed with type 2, you may even be able to reverse the affects and stay off insulin. Either way, do your research, talk with your doctors and follow their advice. Diabetes demands attention, but it is in no way a death sentence.