Diabetes is a disease where your blood glucose (sugar) levels are above normal. It results from the inability of the glucose to get into your cells. As a result your cells are starving for their food (glucose). It would be like a starving person surrounded by tables of wonderful food but their mouth has been sewn closed and they can’t eat.
About 17 million Americans are believed to have diabetes and one-third of those patients don’t even know they have it. Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the 6th leading cause of death in the US. And most diabetics develop heart disease. In fact, just having diabetes carries the same risk of having a heart attack as someone who has already had such an event. Therefore it is very important for patients that have diabetes to also have a physician that closely monitors and treats their cholesterol levels as well as their blood pressure. Additionally, any use of tobacco products multiplies the risks and should be stopped.
Are there different kinds of diabetes? Certainly. But the basic features of the disease are same. In any form of diabetes there is some underlying reason why your body is not able to utilize glucose (sugar) for energy, and that causes the levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood build up above normal. There are three areas that are important for you to understand in diabetes. First, the cells in your body which use the glucose are important as they must be able to remove sugar from the blood and put it inside the cell as a fuel. Secondly, the insulin which is made by your pancreas (an organ near your stomach) is important to allow the sugar to enter the cell (the key to unlock the door to enter), and lastly, glucose which is broken down from your food or from muscle and liver from a storage form of glucose called glycogen. Now if you think of the disease diabetes as involving a locking gas cap on your car, it will be easier to understand.
If you understand how a locking gas cap works, then you can understand how diabetes works. All of the cells in your body have a locking gas cap on them. Insulin is the key to the locking gas cap, and glucose would be the fuel for the car. In one form of diabetes, the body totally quits making insulin (keys) so you can’t get glucose (fuel) into your cells. In other forms of diabetes, your body makes some insulin (keys) but not much as your body needs. Therefore, only a few of the cells can be unlocked and opened to put the glucose (fuel) inside. Another thing that happens is that some of the locks on the cells become rusty and won’t work properly. So even if you have insulin (keys) you can’t get the cells to open. This is called insulin resistance. If the cells won’t open, you can’t get glucose (fuel) inside the cell for energy. The result of all of this is excess glucose in your blood.
Types Of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and only accounts for 5-10% of diabetes patients. In type 1 diabetes the pancreas doesn’t make any insulin (keys) at all.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease. It accounts for 90-95% of all the cases of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, either your body doesn’t make enough insulin (keys), or the cells in your body ignore the insulin (the lock is rusty and doesn’t work) so they can’t utilize glucose like they are supposed to. When your cells ignore the insulin, as mentioned above, it is often referred to as insulin resistance.
Other types of diabetes which only account for a small number of the cases of diabetes include gestational diabetes, which is a type of diabetes that only pregnant women get. If not treated, it can cause problems for mothers and babies and usually disappears when the pregnancy is over. Other types of diabetes resulting from specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses may account for 1% to 2% of all cases of diabetes.
How do you get diabetes?
There are risk factors that increase your chance of developing diabetes. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. Risk factors are less well defined for type 1 diabetes than for type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved in developing this type of diabetes.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
People who think they might have diabetes must visit a physician for a diagnosis. They might have SOME or NONE of the following symptoms: frequent urination, excessive thirst, unexplained weight loss, extreme hunger, sudden vision changes, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, feeling very tired much of the time, very dry skin, sores that are slow to heal, more infections than usual. Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains may accompany some of these symptoms in the abrupt onset of type 1 diabetes.
Glucose is sugar!
So all I have to do is avoid sweets, right?
It is not that simple. The truth is, most food, and all of the carbohydrates you eat, are broken down into its simplest structure, glucose. As food arrives in your stomach, the acid starts to break the food down immediately. Proteins are broken down for their amino acids, and carbohydrates for their glucose. Once your gastrointestinal system breaks your food down into something your body can utilize, the blood picks it up and carries it to your cells to for energy. In healthy people, the blood picks up the glucose absorbed from the GI tract, and sends a signal to your pancreas (an organ near your stomach) to make and release insulin. Remember, in Type 2 diabetes your body doesn’t make enough insulin (keys), or some of your cells ignoring the insulin that is there. (The locks are rusty and won’t work) In both situations, your cells don’t get the glucose they need for energy and they are starving while all the extra glucose is just floating around in your blood and can’t be used. The worst part is, when all that extra glucose is floating around in your blood, it is causing damage to your blood vessels and organs and that damage increase your risk of heart disease. That is why it is very important to keep your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. When the glucose levels get really high, the glucose starts to leak out into your urine.
How do you treat diabetes?
There are several things you need to do to help control your diabetes. For type 1 diabetes, Healthy eating, physical activity, and insulin injections are the basic therapies. The amount of insulin taken must be balanced with food intake and daily activities. For patients with type 1 diabetes, blood glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood glucose testing.
For type 2 diabetes, healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose testing are the basic therapies. In addition, many people with type 2 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both to control their blood glucose levels. Some of the oral medications work by stimulating your pancreas to make more insulin (keys). Other oral medicines work to make the rusty locks start working again. In a sense they are kind of like WD-40 for the rusty locks on the cells. It fixes the lock on the cells so the insulin (keys) can open the cell to allow the glucose (fuel) inside. Once the glucose (fuel) is allowed inside the cells, your blood sugar levels will drop back down to normal.