Diabetes is a group of chronic malfunctions that affect your blood sugar. In the following reading, we’ll discuss the essentials of this condition.
Here, you will find the answer to all of the frequently asked questions about diabetes. Questions like: What are the different types of diabetes, its complications, symptoms, and treatment. The best part is that you’ll get all of this directly from a doctor. Don’t worry; we will be using simple words to cover everything necessary about this condition.
What is blood sugar?
Blood sugar, also called glucose, is the most critical form of sugar in your body. This type of sugar is the main fuel for all the cells in our body. Typically, we get this fuel from the food we eat. The thing is, we eat it as a more complex type of sugar. When we eat food, our digestive system will break down every food into simpler components. Thanks to this latter mechanism, the sugar enters your bloodstream. When your blood sugar levels increase, your hormones will be in charge of regulating these levels. In this case, the pancreas will produce a hormone called insulin.
The function of insulin is to act as transportation for blood sugar to enter the cells. Some cells will use that sugar to fulfill their function, and others, like liver cells, will storage it. This way, the blood glucose levels will go down until the next time you eat. This process takes place in your body every day, after every meal.
Furthermore, another important hormone that has an action on your blood sugar levels is glucagon. Aside from insulin, the pancreas also secretes glucagon. But this happens when you have low blood sugar. Glucagon is in charge of releasing from the liver the glucose that was saved there. This way, your hormones ensure that you have steady glucose levels throughout the day.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus, or simply diabetes, is a group of chronic malfunctions of the metabolism. The most crucial characteristic of diabetes is high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). This is usually the result of combining factors like insulin resistance or insufficient insulin secretion, and excessive glucagon secretion.
There is also an important factor which is the malfunction of pancreatic beta-cells. You already know your pancreas produces insulin, but it’s more made explicitly by beta-cells inside this critically important organ.
In diabetes, these beta cells are not doing their job, which results in poor insulin secretion. This results in a bunch of symptoms that we’ll review later on. Diabetes is a chronic condition that will need treatment and medical assistance for the rest of your life. Also, diabetes can be the cause of many complications that can affect life quality or even death.
How many people in the US have diabetes?
The most recent data from 2015 estimate that around 30.3 million people of all ages have diabetes in the US. This equals almost 10% of the United States population. On the other side, around 84 million adults in the US suffer from prediabetes. The ADA defines prediabetes as a condition in which blood sugar levels are high but not as high as diabetes. This data is essential because an important proportion of people with prediabetes will end up developing diabetes as well.
For worldwide estimation, we have that almost 425 million people had diabetes in 2017. Moreover, in 2019, the WHO estimated that around 1.5 million deaths because of diabetes occurred. This is often underestimated because sometimes the cause in death certificates will be a direct complication from diabetes. With this estimation, diabetes turned out to be the 8th cause of death worldwide.
What is the main cause of this disease?
A genetic background for this condition is significant; therefore, if a family member has this disease, there is also a likelihood of having it. However, the environmental factor also plays a vital role, so there is an interaction between both components.
In a few words, subjects are susceptible by nature. And also have an unhealthy lifestyle (people with obesity or high-calorie intake) will ultimately develop the condition. The vast majority of type 2 diabetes patients carry an obesity diagnosis. So it must be no surprise that the prevention of many cases is just by lifestyle modifications that can lower weight.
What are the different types of diabetes?
Yes, believe it or not, there is more than one type of diabetes. These are as follows:
- Prediabetes: It’s considered a stage with elevated blood sugar, but not as high as diabetes. However, it is important to identify prediabetes since many prediabetic patients will turn out to be diabetic. With an early diagnose of prediabetes, we can prevent patients from developing this chronic and complex disease. In addition, since blood sugar levels are not as high, people with prediabetes can experience milder symptoms.
- Type 1 diabetes: In this type of diabetes, the problem is an autoimmune reaction. Your immune system will attack the beta cells of the pancreas. As these cells are in charge of producing insulin, there is no insulin production once they are destroyed. This is more common in children or early onset diabetes. Also, these patients will need to receive insulin injections for treatment.
- Type 2 diabetes: In this particular case, your body becomes resistant to insulin. This means that insulin is not as effective as putting the blood sugar inside the cells. This results in high blood glucose levels and higher production of insulin to compensate for this flaw. However, since there is still the production of insulin, these patients most of the time won’t require insulin injections.
- Gestational diabetes: This one corresponds to high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It occurs because the placenta (the organ that nurtures the baby) produces some hormones. These hormones can actually block the function of insulin, resulting in high blood sugar. It will get better once the pregnancy is over but still needs medical assistance.
What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
There are many differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The first, and most important one, is the reason they occur.
First, type 1 diabetes occurs because of the destruction of pancreatic beta-cells. Remember, these cells are the ones in charge of producing the insulin your body needs. The destruction occurs because your immune system recognizes them as strange and attacks them.
Once the destruction occurs, you have no beta-cells that will produce insulin. Therefore, a patient with type 1 diabetes doesn’t make any amount of insulin. And yes, type 1 diabetes can be considered an autoimmune disease. On the other side, type 2 diabetes occurs because of impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. This means that the cells of your other organs don’t respond as easily to insulin.
Remember, for cells to get glucose, insulin is indispensable. So when this happens, you’ll have high blood glucose levels. Usually, type 2 diabetes occurs because of a combination of bad risk factors like an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise in genetically susceptible individuals.
Another critical difference is the onset of symptoms and diagnosis. For type 1 diabetes, patients are usually diagnosed during puberty, between 10 and 14 years old. However, patients under 40 years old can get diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, but it’s less common. On the other side, type 2 diabetes usually gets diagnosed above 45 years of age. However, each day we see more children who have type 2 diabetes, which is a huge problem.
Finally, another important difference is the treatment. For type 1 diabetes, patients will need insulin injections for the rest of their lives. For type 2 diabetes, the treatment is most commonly through pills, and they usually don’t require insulin injections.
Does diabetes raise your risk for other health problems?
Indeed, among patients with diabetes, cardiovascular complications are a leading cause of death (heart problems or stroke). Besides, kidney problems and eye issues (diabetic retinopathy) are widespread chronic diabetes conditions.
Sadly, patients with diabetes aren’t only affected by chronic illnesses. They can also develop severe and acute conditions such as diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state. These are critical situations where the patient needs to get to the emergency room. So, again, insulin, besides other treatments, mostly through the vein, is mandatory. And again, a reduction in blood glucose control is the core of all these acute or chronic complications.
Diabetes has a well-known set of possible cardiovascular complications such as coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and cerebrovascular disease. These are among the first causes of death in the United States. What is more important is that diabetes represents a severe risk factor for these conditions independently of age, smoking status, weight, and systolic blood pressure. In fact, patients because of diabetes alone are twice more likely to die from these diseases.
Peripheral vascular disease in diabetic patients is a leading cause of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations. This issue has to do with all the complex harm that involves nerves, vessels, and a deterioration in the immune system that predisposes to recurrent and severe skin infections.
Diabetic retinopathy affects approximately a third of patients with diabetes. Importantly, this condition can lead to a progressive loss of sight. Even though it can be treated and slowed, it can yield an irreversible state of sight loss if it progresses in excess.
Furthermore, the link between diabetes and other diseases has been under study, such as depression, schizophrenia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, periodontal disease, and hypertension during pregnancy (gestational hypertension.)
How are your body organs affected by this disease?
Diabetes can affect your organs in many ways. This is based on the fact that diabetes affects the blood vessels of the body. And, as you may know, all of the organs in the body get their oxygen and nutrients through blood vessels.
The most affected organs in diabetes are the heart, kidneys, eyes, brain, and nerves. In diabetes, there will be an inflammatory state that will affect blood vessels. The lining of the vessels can be affected, resulting in a blood vessel that doesn’t do contraction or relaxation easily. This impairs the blood flow to almost every organ in your body.
Furthermore, it’s no surprise that the organs most commonly affected in diabetes are the ones that need higher blood flow. The heart, kidneys, retina (back of your eye), and brain need a huge amount of blood flow. This is to keep them healthy and also keep them functioning as they should. This is why diabetes can result in kidney disease and heart disease. For example, a poorly oxygenated heart can’t pump blood as effectively, which results in more poorly oxygenated organs.
This blood vessel damage can occur in both big and small vessels, affecting different tissues and organs.
What does untreated diabetes feel like?
The symptoms of diabetes are very characteristic. However, their onset can be slow, being tricky to identify. The most common symptoms of diabetes are:
- Increased hunger: The patient will commonly eat more and more frequently.
- Increased thirst: The patient will have an increased sensation of thirst. This rarely gets better with increased water intake.
- Weight loss: Even with increased hunger, diabetic patients will lose weight involuntarily.
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision or difficulty to see images clearly.
- Extreme fatigue
Also, other less common symptoms can be present in diabetes too:
- Increased chance of skin infections and yeast infections (in women)
- Decrease in sex drive and erectile dysfunction (in men)
- Itchy, dry skin that doesn’t heal easily after a wound.
Is peeing a lot a sign of diabetes?
In fact, yes. Frequent urination (polyuria) is one of the most common symptoms of diabetes. This occurs as a result of high blood glucose levels. Since you have so much sugar in your blood, your body will find ways to get rid of it. It can’t do it through insulin because you neither produce it or your cells don’t respond to it. So, one of the easiest ways to do it is through urine.
Your kidneys will filtrate every ounce of blood in your body. Everything you don’t need will become urine. But, with such a big amount of sugar in your blood, they’ll need to do this several times. And this will probably occur in a small period of time. In fact, in patients with diabetes, doctors can find glucose in a urine sample. This is a clue that the patient may be suffering from diabetes.
Why does type 2 diabetes cause your feet to go numb?
Numbness in the feet is one of the extensive lists of neurologic complications in diabetic patients. It can affect as many as half of the patients diagnosed with diabetes. It usually starts without symptoms (asymptomatic condition) until patients begin experiencing symptoms due to nerve damage.
The nerve impairment could include loss of sense and weakness of the distal upper and lower extremities. The nerve damage occurs due to uncontrolled high glucose levels over time, damaging and changing healthy neural cells wrecking their functions. This condition is called “sensorimotor neuropathy.”
What are the acute complications?
Acute complications are the ones that occur in a small period of time. Diabetes can cause many acute complications that can be dangerous if not treated soon.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis: It’s probably the most serious complication. It’s most common in type 1 diabetes patients. This happens because there is a lack of insulin. This deficiency doesn’t let blood sugar get inside the cells to function. Since they are not getting sugars, tissues will start to degrade fat as a fuel. This process results in the production of acids called ketones. When there is a huge number of ketones, then diabetic ketoacidosis occurs. Some important symptoms include nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, fruit-scented breath, and confusion.
- Hyperglycemic hyperosmotic state: It’s most common for type 2 diabetes. Here, patients also experience incredibly high levels of blood sugar. However, since these patients do produce insulin, there is no production of ketones. As a result, aA hyperglycemic hyperosmotic state can occur due to lack of medication and usually causes confusion and extreme dehydration.
- Hypoglycemia: Contrary to the previous complications, the patient suffers from low blood sugars (hypoglycemia). This happens because of mistakes while taking medication or injecting insulin. Hypoglycemia can be as dangerous as the other complications and requires medical assistance too.
What are the chronic complications of diabetes?
Over a long time, diabetes patients can develop chronic complications. These complications are more common for patients with uncontrolled diabetes. The most common complications are the result of blood vessel damage, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease: Diabetes directly damages your blood vessels. This also results in damage to the heart. In the long run, the heart will get less oxygen and nutrients, making it harder to pump blood. The less blood it pumps, the less blood it also brings to nurture the cardiac muscle. This results in a weakened heart and what doctors call heart failure.
- Kidney failure: The kidneys are one of the organs that need the most blood. Damaged blood vessels result in less oxygen and nutrients for these essential organs. After a long time, kidneys will become permanently damaged, resulting in kidney failure.
- Diabetic retinopathy: As we mentioned before, diabetes can affect your eyes too. This happens because the eye also has many tiny blood vessels that can get affected by diabetes. The affectation of blood vessels of the retina can develop complications like blindness after a long time.
How many diabetic patients will develop kidney disease?
Diabetic nephropathy is a common complication of diabetes. Over 20 years of a diabetic patient’s disease, half of them would develop this condition. Specifically, 10% of type 2 diabetes patients die from it. It isn’t usual to find an established kidney disease before ten years of diabetes progression. But some preludious lesions can be detected in urine samples, though.
For a kidney disease to become established and progressive, many previous steps can tell about the actual risk, mostly when the increased blood sugar levels damage the kidney. There is a marked excretion of proteins by the kidney that can modify standard urine samples. This abnormal process is called “proteinuria,” and diabetic patients that aren’t experiencing it, even after 20 or 25 years, take pleasure in just a minimal risk for developing this condition.
Patients with diabetes that aren’t receiving treatment tend to have high blood sugar levels; therefore, they are at a higher risk of developing nephropathy or kidney disease. Suppose this high blood sugar situation continues over time. In that case, kidney failure could happen, and it is a life-threatening condition that could even require dialysis.
Can you have diabetes and not know?
The symptoms of diabetes are usually silent or mild. However, as the years pass and the condition progresses, the symptoms begin to flair and can be very high-pitch and disabling; for that moment is already late.
The classic symptoms comprise an increase in voiding, thirst, appetite, and weight loss but not in association with diet. Other symptoms are blurred vision, numbing of legs, and repetitive infections. However, most of the patient doesn’t notice them or are just without symptoms.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
If you suspect you have diabetes, you should go to the doctor. First, your doctor will ask about the symptoms you’ve been having, as well as your medical and family history. Then, they will perform a complete physical examination, including an eye test. If your doctor suspects you have diabetes, they will ask for some laboratory studies to confirm it. These include FPG or fasting plasma glucose and AC1 hemoglobin.
The first measure includes measuring your blood sugar after you fasted for at least 8 hours. If, after a long fast, you have high blood sugar, this means you have diabetes. Also, AC1 hemoglobin will tell your doctor how your blood glucose has been in the past 3 months. Other tests include the glucose challenge test, in which you drink a sugary liquid and get your glucose measured after. Again, an early diabetes diagnosis is vital in order to get your treatment and prevent potential complications.
What should I expect if I have been diagnosed with diabetes?
If you happen to be diagnosed with diabetes, the first thing you will receive is diabetes education. This will help you manage your condition and be aware of the complications you may have. Education is basically the key to prevent diabetes complications.
You will learn how to measure blood sugar at home and manage blood sugar control, take your medications and the diet you should follow, and about blood sugar control devices and how/when to use them. Diabetes care is the most crucial aspect of this condition.
How is diabetes treated?
This will depend on the type of diabetes you have. As we mentioned before, type 1 diabetes patients will always need to get insulin injections. There are many different types of insulins. The main difference between them is how quickly they work and how long does the effect lasts. Your doctor will be the one to tell you which type of insulin you should use. Also, they will indicate at which times of the day you should get your injections. New devices like insulin pumps will sense your blood sugar levels and inject the insulin automatically.
For type 2 diabetes, the treatment will typically be by mouth. There are many antidiabetic drugs. Most of them act by lowering your blood sugar one way or another. These treatments should also be indicated by a doctor. Sometimes, type 2 diabetes patients will need a combination of drugs to keep their blood sugar under control.
Furthermore, we should keep an eye on the things that put us at an increased risk of complications. For example, in diabetes, keeping a healthy diet and an active lifestyle goes a long way. In fact, these are some of the most critical risk factors of this condition. So, please don’t doubt about making healthier changes to your lifestyle.
How can you prevent or treat diabetes?
For staying safe major risk factors should be avoided or diminished, including avoiding increased waist circumference, increased blood pressure, increased cholesterol levels, unhealthy diet factors, cigarette smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and psychological stress.
Hence, the outcome for this illness highly relies on proper medical management for blood sugar control. Treatment comprises diet and exercise modification (for weight loss), medications, regular monitoring by physicians, and periodic laboratory assessment.
How can I know that I have the disease?
We have two tools, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Symptoms Checker and Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms Checker. These tools have the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for these diseases. Therefore, each tool will tell you the likelihood of having that particular disease. Using the tool is free and would only take you a few minutes.