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An Overview of Diabetes

When someone has diabetes, the body does not produce or use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for life.

Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism—the way our bodies use digested food for growth and energy. Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose, the form of sugar in the blood. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body.

After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream, where it is used by cells for growth and energy. For glucose to get into cells, insulin must be present. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach.

When we eat, the pancreas automatically produces the right amount of insulin to move glucose from blood into our cells. In people with diabetes, however, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced. Glucose builds up in the blood, overflows into the urine, and passes out of the body in the urine. Thus, the body loses its main source of fuel even though the blood contains large amounts of glucose. That is why is crucial for diabetics to test and monitor blood glucose levels.

Diabetes is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. Diabetes is associated with long-term complications that affect almost every part of the body. The disease often leads to blindness, heart and blood vessel disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputations, and diabetic nerve damage. Uncontrolled diabetes can complicate pregnancy, and birth defects are more common in babies born to women with diabetes.

In 2012, diabetes cost the United States $245 billion. Indirect costs, including disability payments, time lost from work, and premature death, totaled $69 billion; direct medical costs for diabetes care, including hospitalizations, medical care, and treatment supplies, totaled $176 billion.

There are 3 main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease results when the body's system for fighting infection (the immune system) turns against a part of the body. In diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. A person who has type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live.

At present, scientists do not know exactly what causes the body's immune system to attack the beta cells, but they believe that autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors, possibly viruses, are involved. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the United States.

Symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Constant hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Extreme fatigue

If not diagnosed and treated with insulin, a person with type 1 diabetes can lapse into a life-threatening diabetic coma, also known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Type 2 Diabetes

The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. About 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2. This form of diabetes is most often associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, and physical inactivity,

Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset or noninsulindependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. This form of diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by producing more insulin. In time, however, it loses the ability to secrete enough insulin in response to meals. People who are overweight and inactive are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop gradually. Their onset is not as sudden as in type 1 diabetes. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst and hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing of wounds or sores

Some people have no symptoms.

For some people, treatment includes taking diabetes medicines, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and taking aspirin daily. Read more on Type 2 Diabetes here.

Gestational Diabetes

Some women develop gestational diabetes late in pregnancy. Although this form of diabetes usually resolves after the baby is born, a woman who has had gestational diabetes is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

 
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