What is Diabetes ?

Diabetes Explained: Diabetes is a disease which affects the way in which the body manages digested carbohydrates. If ignored, diabetes can lead to very severe health issues, ranging from loss of sight to kidney failure.

 How Diabetes Affects The Body

Diabetics have a high amount of blood glucose. The blood sugar level is controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which releases it in response to carbohydrate intake. Insulin causes the cells of the body to absorb glucose from the blood. The glucose then serves as fuel for cellular functions.

Diabetes Symptoms

The many symptoms of diabetes include too much urination, excessive thirst and hunger, unexpected weight loss, blurred vision, delay in healing of wounds, dry and itchy skin, repeated infections, tiredness and headache. While suggestive of diabetes, these symptoms can also be caused by other factors, and therefore anyone with symptoms suspicious of the disease should be examined.

There are 2 different kinds of diabetes.

Type I Diabetes (juvenile diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes):

The cause of type I diabetes begins with pancreatic inability to make insulin. This causes 5-10% of cases of diabetes. The pancreatic Islet of Langerhans cells, which secrete the hormone, are destroyed by the patient’s own immune system, almost certainly because it mistakes them for a virus. Viral infections are considered to be the trigger that sets off this auto-immune disease.

Type I diabetes is most prevalent in the Caucasian population and has a hereditary component.

If neglected, Type I or juvenile diabetes can lead to death within two to three months of the onset, as the cells of the body starve because they no longer receive the hormonal prompt to absorb glucose. Although a great majority of Type I diabetics are young, the condition can develop at any age.

Autoimmune diabetes is diagnosed by an immunological assay, which reveals the presence of anti-insulin/anti-islet-cell antibodies.

Type II Diabetes (non insulin dependent diabetes, also known as adult onset diabetes):

This diabetes is a consequence of body tissues becoming resistant to the effects of insulin. It accounts for 90-95% of cases. In several cases the pancreas is producing a plentiful amount of insulin, however the cells of the body have become unresponsive to its effect due to the chronically high level of the hormone. Finally the pancreas will exhaust its over-active secretion of the hormone, and insulin levels fall to below normal.

A tendency towards Type II diabetes is hereditary, even though it is unlikely to develop in normal-weight people eating a low- or even moderate-carbohydrate diet. Obese, sedentary people who eat poor-quality diets built around refined starch, which constantly activates pancreatic insulin secretion, are prone to grow insulin resistance. Native peoples like North American Aboriginals, whose traditional diets never included refined starch and sugar until these items were introduced by Europeans, have very high rates of diabetes, five times the rate of Caucasians. Blacks and Hispanics are also at greater risk of the disease. Though Type II diabetes isn’t as immediately devastating as Type I, it can lead to health complications after many years and cause serious disability and shorter life span.

As with Type I diabetes, the condition develops mainly in a certain age group, in this case patients over forty (which is why it’s typically termed Adult Onset Diabetes); however, with the rise in childhood and teenage being overweight, this condition is being seen for the first time in school children as well.

If treatment is neglected, both Type I and Type II diabetes can lead to life-threatening problems like kidney damage (nephropathy), heart disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), retinal damage and blindness (retinopathy), and hypoglycemia (drastic reduction in glucose levels).

Diabetes damages blood vessels, especially smaller end-arteries, leading to very severe and premature atherosclerosis. Diabetics are prone to foot problems because neuropathy, which affects about ten percent of patients, causes their feet to lose feeling. Foot injuries, common in day-to-day living, go unnoticed, and these injuries cannot heal because of atherosclerotic blockage of the microscopic arteries in the foot.

Gangrene and subsequent amputation of toes, feet or even legs is the result for many elderly patients with poorly-controlled diabetes. Usually these sequelae are seen sooner in Type I than Type II diabetes, because Type II patients have a small amount of their own insulin production left to buffer changes in blood sugar levels.

Data from the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014 (released June 10, 2014)

Overall Figures, Pre-diabetes and Diabetes

  • Prevalence: In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes.
  • UN-diagnosed: Of the 29.1 million, 21.0 million were diagnosed, and 8.1 million were UN-diagnosed.
  • Prevalence in Seniors: The percentage of Americans age 65 and older remain high, at 25.9%, or 11.8 million seniors (diagnosed and UN-diagnosed).
  • New Cases: The incidence of diabetes in 2012 was 1.7 million new diagnoses/year; in 2010 it was 1.9 million.
  • Prediabetes: In 2012, 86 million Americans age 20 and older had prediabetes; this is up from 79 million in 2010.
  • Deaths: Diabetes remains the 7th major cause of death in the United States in 2010, with 69,071 death certificates listing it as the underlying cause of death, and a total of 234,051 death certificate records diabetes as an actual or contributing cause of death.