Diabetes Basics

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If you wish to learn the basics about diabetes, then this is your starting point.

In this section, we cover the down-to-earth basics of diabetes mellitus, and cover all aspects of this condition  in brief. Detailed descriptions have been made in relevant sections. You can click on the links anywhere in this article to learn more about the relevant terms.

Lets get started.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a condition where the levels of blood glucose are above normal.

The food that we eat is broken down into different components that supply the cells and tissues with the nourishment it needs. Glucose is one of these products that provides energy to the cells.

The glucose that is released from the body needs to enter the cells and tissues if it is to provide this energy. Movement of glucose into the cells is facilitated by a hormone that is released by the pancreas called insulin. When the right amount of insulin is released into the blood from the pancreas, the glucose that is derived from food we eat can provide sufficient energy to allow the cells to work normally and efficiently.

In diabetes, the pancreas either fails to produce insulin, or produces insufficient insulin. In addition, individuals with diabetes may not respond to the normal insulin that is produced from the pancreas.

UNDERLYING FEATURES OF DIABETES MELLITUS

In diabetes –

  • There is no insulin produced OR
  • There is insufficient insulin production OR
  • The cells and tissues in the body do not respond to the insulin that is produced.

Types of diabetes

There are 2 main types of diabetes.

1. Type 1 diabetes – Here the pancreas fails to produce insulin. It was previously called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. This is seen in children, and is sometimes called juvenile onset diabetes as well.

2. Type 2 diabetes – Here the pancreas produces less amount of insulin, or the body does not respond to the insulin being produced by the pancreas. It is the more common type of diabetes, and is seen in adults.

3. Gestational diabetes – Diabetes that arises in pregnant women is called gestational diabetes. It can complicate 2 – 10% of pregnancies.

Risk factors for diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, genes that are passed down from family members play a role. Certain autoimmune and environmental factors have been implicated as well.

Type 2 diabetes has been linked to obesity, lack of exercise, family history of diabetes and gestational diabetes. Indians are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is often seen in obese women who become pregnant. In 10 – 20 years, the risk of developing full blown diabetes in these individuals ranges between 35 – 60%.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The common symptoms are listed in the box below.

SYMPTOMS OF DIABETES
  1. Excessive thirst
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Unexplained weight loss
  4. Constant hunger
  5. Tiredness
  6. Change in vision
  7. Tingling in the hands and feet
  8. Slow healing infections

Treatment of diabetes

The treatment of diabetes is 3-fold.

  1. Diet – Low sugar, low carbohydrate diet
  2. Exercise – Moderate intensity aerobic exercise 45 minutes a day
  3. Medication – Prescribed medicines include tablets (called oral hypoglycemic agents) and insulin.

A combination of these 3 is essential to control and treat diabetes.

Complications of diabetes

Diabetes can lead to numerous complications that affect different vital organs.

The affected organs include –

  • Heart – It can increase the risk of heart attacks and heart failure.
  • Kidneys – It can lead to kidney damage
  • Brain – Diabetes increases the risk of developing a stroke
  • Liver – Diabetes can increase the risk of fatty liver
  • Eyes – Loss of vision is a common complication
  • Skin – Dryness may occur

Can diabetes be cured?

There is ongoing research in the area of diabetes, and new therapies are being investigated to see if they can reverse and even cure diabetes.

Current studies are looking at pancreas islet transplantation, artificial pancreas development and islet cell transplant.  Gene therapy is also an area of research.

As of now, there is no allopathic cure for diabetes available.

For more information, visit our section of diabetes mellitus.

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