Saturday, November 10, 2007

What Is Diabetes?


- The Balance of Glucose and Insulin -
Diabetes is a disorder that affects the way your body uses food for energy. Normally, the sugar you take in is digested and broken down to a simple sugar, known as glucose. The glucose then circulates in your blood where it waits to enter cells to be used as fuel. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps move the glucose into cells. A healthy pancreas adjusts the amount of insulin based on the level of glucose. But, if you have diabetes, this process breaks down, and blood sugar levels become too high.

There are two main types of full-blown diabetes. People with Type 1 diabetes are completely unable to produce insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes can produce insulin, but their cells don't respond to it. In either case, the glucose can't move into the cells and blood glucose levels can become high. Over time, these high glucose levels can cause serious complications.

Pre-Diabetes -
Pre-diabetes means that the cells in your body are becoming resistant to insulin or your pancreas is not producing as much insulin as required. Your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. This is also known as "impaired fasting glucose" or "impaired glucose tolerance". A diagnosis of pre-diabetes is a warning sign that diabetes will develop later. The good news: You can prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes by losing weight, making changes in your diet and exercising.

Type 1 Diabetes -
A person with Type 1 diabetes can't make any insulin. Type 1 most often occurs before age 30, but may strike at any age. Type 1 can be caused by a genetic disorder. The origins of Type 1 are not fully understood, and there are several theories. But all of the possible causes still have the same end result: The pancreas produces very little or no insulin anymore. Frequent insulin injections are needed for Type 1.

Type 2 Diabetes -
A person with Type 2 diabetes has adequate insulin, but the cells have become resistant to it. Type 2 usually occurs in adults over 35 years old, but can affect anyone, including children. The National Institutes of Health state that 95 percent of all diabetes cases are Type 2. Why? It's a lifestyle disease, triggered by obesity, a lack of exercise, increased age and to some degree, genetic predisposition.

Gestational Diabetes -
Gestational diabetes (GD) affects about 4 percent of all pregnant women. It usually appears during the second trimester and disappears after the birth of the baby. Like Type 1 and Type 2, your body can't use glucose effectively and blood glucose levels get too high. When GD is not controlled, complications can affect both you and your baby. Your doctor will help you work out a diet and exercise plan, and possibly medication. Having GD increases your risk for developing it again during future pregnancies and also raises your risk of Type 2 diabetes later in life.

- Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes -

Many of the signs of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are similar. In both, there is too much glucose in the blood and not enough in the cells of your body. High glucose levels in Type I are due to a lack of insulin because the insulin producing cells have been destroyed. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body's cells become resistant to insulin that is being produced. Either way, your cells aren't getting the glucose that they need, and your body lets you know by giving you these signs and symptoms.

Frequent trips to the bathroom -
Are you visiting the bathroom much more lately? Does it seem like you urinate all day long? Urination becomes more frequent when there is too much glucose in the blood. If insulin is nonexistent or ineffective, the kidneys can't filter glucose back to the blood. They become overwhelmed and try to draw extra water out of the blood to dilute the glucose. This keeps your bladder full and it keeps you running to the bathroom.

Unquenchable Thirst -
If it feels like you can't get enough water and you're drinking much more than usual, it could be a sign of diabetes, especially if it seems to go hand in hand with frequent urination. If your body is pulling extra water out of your blood and you're running to the bathroom more, you will become dehydrated and feel the need to drink more to replace the water that you are losing.

Losing Weight Without Trying -
This symptom is more noticeable with Type 1 diabetes. In Type 1, the pancreas stops making insulin, possibly due to a viral attack on pancreas cells or because an autoimmune response makes the body attack the insulin producing cells. The body desperately looks for an energy source because the cells aren't getting glucose. It starts to break down muscle tissue and fat for energy. Type 2 happens gradually with increasing insulin resistance so weight loss is not as noticeable.

Weakness and Fatigue -
It's that bad boy glucose again. Glucose from the food we eat travels into the bloodstream where insulin is supposed to help it transition into the cells of our body. The cells use it to produce the energy we need to live. When the insulin isn't there or if the cells don't react to it anymore, then the glucose stays outside the cells in the bloodstream. The cells become energy starved and you feel tired and run down.

Tingling or Numbness in Your Hands, Legs or Feet -
This symptom is called neuropathy. It occurs gradually over time as consistently high glucose in the blood damages the nervous system, particularly in the extremities. Type 2 diabetes is a gradual onset, and people are often not aware that they have it. Therefore, blood sugar might have been high for more than a few years before a diagnosis is made. Nerve damage can creep up without our knowledge. Neuropathy can very often improve when tighter blood glucose control is achieved.

Other Signs and Symptoms that can Occur -
Blurred vision, skin that is dry or itchy, frequent infections or cuts and bruises that take a long time to heal are also signs that something is amiss. Again, when these signs are associated with diabetes, they are the result of high glucose levels in the body. If you notice any of the above signs, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she will be able to tell you if you have reason to be concerned about a diagnosis of diabetes.

- Treatments for Diabetes -

A diagnosis of diabetes can bring on many new challenges. Depending on what type of diabetes you have, you may need medication or insulin. You may need to make dietary and other lifestyle changes.

There are two main types of diabetes. In both type 1 and type 2, glucose can't move out of the blood and into the cells, where it needs to go. Glucose levels in the blood can become too high. In people without diabetes, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood to help move the glucose out.

People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin. Type 1 requires daily insulin injections. People with type 2 diabetes can still produce insulin, but their cells don't respond to it as well as they should.

Diabetes is approached from many angles. There are different types of insulin and methods of insulin delivery for type 1.

Sometimes, type 2 diabetics require insulin if oral medications provide inadequate control of blood glucose levels. Several classifications of medications are available for type 2.

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