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Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases characterized by the body’s inability to produce any or a sufficient amount of insulin, causing elevated levels of glucose in the blood. This common disease affects approximately 25.8 million adults and children in the United States, or roughly 8.3 percent of the population. Blood glucose, also referred to as blood sugar, is vital to your health as it acts as a primary source of energy for the body’s tissue and muscle cells. Chronic diabetes includes type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and both can have devastating effects on your health.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes symptoms generally depend on just how much the blood glucose levels are elevated. Patients with type 1 diabetes often experience symptoms earlier than those with type 2 diabetes, and type 1 diabetes symptoms are often more severe. The most common signs and symptoms of both types of diabetes include increased thirst, extreme hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, and presence of ketones in the urine, high blood pressure, fatigue, slow-healing wounds, and frequent infections. While type 2 diabetes can develop at any age, type 1 diabetes most commonly develops during childhood or adolescence.
Impact of Diabetes
Diabetes can affect one’s health in a number of ways. Over time, diabetes can result in kidney failure, blindness and nerve damage due to damage of small vessels, referred to as microvascular disease. Diabetes also contributes to the narrowing of arteries, and is a leading cause of coronary heart disease, strokes, and other diseases that impact large blood vessels. In the United States, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death.
Causes of Diabetes
It’s important to understand what causes diabetes and how glucose is normally processed in the human body. Glucose is a type of sugar that acts as a primary source of energy for muscle and tissue cells. Glucose derives from two main sources, food and the liver. The liver stores and makes glucose, and sugar is absorbed by the bloodstream, where it then enters the body’s cells to help make insulin.
In patients with type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, resulting in little to no insulin. This type of diabetes is believed to be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. In patients with type 2 diabetes, the cells become resistant to insulin, and the pancreas is then unable to make enough insulin to overcome the resistance. Type 2 diabetes is also thought to be caused by genetics and environmental factors. However, research clearly indicates that being overweight is directly linked to type 2 diabetes, although not everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight.
Drugs and Treatment Options
Treatment for diabetes generally depends on your health, age and what type of diabetes you have. If you have diabetes, blood sugar monitoring is essential, as well as living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight. Healthy eating can make a big difference in your condition. It’s important to maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in fat and calories. Regular physical activity can also help lower blood sugar levels and increase your sensitivity to insulin.
Most people with type 1 diabetes, as well as some with type 2, require insulin therapy for survival. Insulin is injected into the body using an insulin pen or a fine needle and syringe. Some patients use an insulin pump to get the insulin they need, which dispenses specific amounts of insulin through a small pump device that works wirelessly. Sometimes, injected or oral medications may be prescribed as well to stimulate the pancreas to help it produce and release insulin. It’s important to work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.