What is Diabetes?
Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is a disorder of the human body that is characterized by high blood sugar levels, a condition known as hyperglycemia. It is caused either by an inadequate secretion of the glucose-regulating hormone, insulin, or an inadequate response by the body’s cells to insulin.
What are the Different Types?
Diabetes is classified into two categories; these are type 1 and type 2.
Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 – Also called juvenile onset diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a decreased or outright absence of production of insulin. This is due to a disorder in the autoimmune response of the person, causing his own antibodies to attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 – Also known as adult-onset diabetes, obesity-related diabetes, or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), Type 2 diabetes results from the inability of the body’s cells to respond to insulin. As the disease progresses, the production of insulin in the body decreases.
Gestational Diabetes – This is often called Type 3 diabetes although the designation is rarely used in medical practice. Gestation diabetes occurs among women during pregnancy and is similar to Type 2 diabetes in that it is a result of the cell’s resistance to insulin. The consequence is often abnormal increased fetal weight, increased surrounding amniotic fluid caused by increased fetal urination (called polyhydramnios), fetal jaundice and low blood sugars after delivery. On rare occasions, the condition has also been said to cause intra-uterine death.
Irrespective of its type, diabetes represents an anomalous rise of glucose in a person’s blood. This anomaly is as a result of the inadequate level of insulin or perhaps a misuse of it. If the suitable treatment is not given, this disease can be the cause of many severe complications (cardiac disease, amputations, blindness, and impotence).
What are its Signs?
The onset of diabetes is varied, depending on its particular type. Most Type 2 diabetes cases have a slow onset, taking years before the signs start to appear. However, in Type 1 cases, particularly in children, the symptoms may appear rapidly, taking only months or even weeks.
The most obvious signs of diabetes include the following:
- Frequent thirst (polydipsia)
- Constant urination (polyuria)
- Rapid loss of weight
- Unusual hunger
- Obvious weakness and fatigue
How is it Diagnosed?
There are many methods by which diabetes is diagnosed, but doctors commonly use the following approaches:
- Health screening
- Detection of hyperglycemia
- New signs and symptoms attributable to diabetes
Diagnosis is often prompted with the onset of the symptoms. Patients often undergo a diabetes screening test, the particulars of which often vary according to circumstances and local policy. Some may be made to undergo random glucose testing, fasting glucose and insulin, or glucose two hours after 75g of glucose. Sometimes, doctors diagnose the disease through a formal glucose tolerance test.
For adults aged 40-50, health caregivers recognize universal screening tests for diabetes with earlier screening tests for those with potential risk factors, such as obesity, family history of diabetes, and high-risk ethnicity (Hispanic, American Indian, African, American, Pacific Island, and South Asian).
What are the Risk Factors?
There are many risk factors that, when combined, could increase the probability scale in developing diabetes. However, the real cause of the disease remains unknown. Below are a few of the most common risk factors associated with diabetes:
Obesity – One of the strongest risk factors identified for diabetes is being overweight. Most cases of Type 2 diabetes have a Body Mass Index (BMI) that is greater than the normal 25, which led scientists to conclude that weight plays a significant role in preventing the onset of the symptoms.
Waist Size – Another factor that is somewhat related to obesity is waist size. In fact, research shows that waistline may be a better predicator of diabetes risk. People who have the so-called “apple-shaped” figure (much of their weight is in the waist and upper abdomen) are more likely to develop diabetes than persons with larger hips, buttocks, and thighs (or the “pear-shaped” figure).
Sedentary Lifestyle – Exercise correlates with weight and waist circumference. As such, lack of adequate exercise is also a risk factor for diabetes.
Age – Although some types of diabetes occur even in children, the risk for diabetes increases as the person’s age also increases. The average age of persons diagnosed with diabetes is 40 years.
Background – This includes family history and ethnic background. Scientists have yet to discover a direct hereditary pattern for diabetes, but several studies show that you have a greater risk of developing the disease if you have a family member diagnosed with diabetes. As for ethnicity, diabetes is found to be more common among African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders.
How Can You Prevent it?
Knowing what are the risk factors involved in diabetes is already the first step to its prevention. However, knowing is different from doing. You may know a lot about the disease now but if you do not use this new knowledge you garnered in order to protect yourself from the ravages of diabetes, then that knowledge is useless. Now, therefore, is the time for you to take action – do something.
The good news is that the most common type of diabetes, Type 2, is easily manageable by maintaining a proper diet and exercising regularly. The Diabetes Prevention Program, a study conducted by the American Diabetes Association, has just been completed and the findings showed that people with pre-diabetes (those that exhibit the risk factors as well as increased blood sugar levels in the blood but without the actual onset of the disease) can prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes through diet change and exercise. Proponents say that the patients’ blood glucose levels may even return to normal as a result of proper diet and regular exercise.
How do You Treat the Symptoms?
In treating diabetes mellitus, the primary goal is to maintain the balance of glucose levels in the blood, keeping it within normal range. By doing this, you have a far better chance of lessening, delaying, or even preventing the complications of the disease.
The most common methods used for treating diabetes include the following:
- Weight loss
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
Another option you have, and one which is fairly common, is the intake of glucose-lowering medications. Usually, the first line of treatment that diabetics have is medications that are implemented orally. Their effects vary from increasing the sensitivity of cells to insulin to blocking glucose in the digestive tract from entering the blood and increasing insulin production. Sometimes, mere oral implementation of drugs may not be enough to treat diabetes. In this instance, insulin is needed. Insulin cannot be made into pill form, hence, it must be injected.
Some people take a supplement called chromium, although there is no conclusive medical evidence that it can assist people with diabetes.
If your doctor has recommended insulin injections for treatment of your diabetes, it would mean a difficult and time-consuming treatment plan that involves injecting insulin several times a day plus frequent blood glucose monitoring. However, with proper planning, diet, and exercise, living with diabetes is manageable.