What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease which occurs when levels of sugar in the blood become irregular.
Different factors can cause diabetes. Some people have a dysfunction of the immune system, others may develop diabetes due to an unhealthy lifestyle.
However, this condition is on the increase. When looking at global trends, in just over 30 years the number of adults diagnosed with this type of condition has almost doubled. (1)
The pancreas is responsible for producing a hormone called insulin. This helps to extract glucose from the foods we eat and transfers the energy source around the body.
When a person has diabetes the body either doesn’t produce any, enough or it can’t use insulin efficiently. Without an adequate amount of this hormone, glucose cannot be released from the blood to where it’s needed. This can lead to complications.
There are two predominant types of diabetes: (2)
Type 1 diabetes is common in children and young adults. This type occurs when the immune system attacks cells which make insulin. Eventually production stops, and the person must take insulin shots daily.
Type 2 is a little different, it develops when the body can’t produce enough insulin or any at all. This is the most common type of diabetes and it’s mostly caused by lifestyle, age, being obese or if you have a family history of the disease.
Diabetes can also occur in pregnant women, it’s called gestational diabetes. It typically goes away once the pregnancy is over, but it increases chances of developing type 2 diabetes later on. (3)
Symptoms are generally the same for both types of diabetes. Although for type 1 symptoms can start rapidly whereas with type 2, they tend to be quite subtle and gradual. Some people may not even show any signs. (4)
Increased Thirst and Urination
This is a classic symptom of diabetes. (5)
It occurs when extra glucose is in the blood. The kidney’s can’t keep up with the filtering process, which means more sugar is passed through the urine. As the urine travels to exit the body the sugar drags water and fluids from tissues which creates more urine.
Eventually the body will get dehydrated, triggering thirst. And so the cycle repeats.
This is another common symptom of diabetes, which is mainly due to the irregularities of blood sugar levels or lack of energy. The medical term for it is polyphagia. (6)
Increased hunger can be also be caused by emotional stress or anxiety. Sometimes due to a specific type of medicine.
Fatigue can be explained as a feeling of extreme tiredness or weakness in the body.
People who have diabetes are prone to fatigue because the body is not receiving adequate energy they need from glucose. It can also be triggered by frequent urination and dehydration. (7)
Blurred vision is when you lose sense of sharpness and ability to identify objects clearly. Inconsistent blood sugar levels can exacerbate this symptom, you may find one day your eyesight is fine, yet the next day it could be totally different.
People with diabetes can develop blurred vision among other eye sight problems. It occurs as the tiny blood vessels in the eyes are damaged, this is called diabetic retinopathy. (8,9)
This condition can’t be cured, but it can be slowed down with right treatment and control of glucose levels.
Numbness or Tingling in Hands and Feet
A sensation of numbness and tingling can occur in any place on the body, especially legs and feet, arms and hands. It can be an abnormal feeling to experience, although it’s quite common.
Many people can get this feeling if they sit or stand in one position for too long.
However, it can also be a sign of nerve damage. In the case of diabetes, nerve damage is caused by large amounts of sugar in the blood. This condition is called diabetic neuropathy. (10)
Slow Healing Sores/Wounds
People with diabetes are more likely to develop sores and infections. This is sometimes due to nerve damage, especially to the feet. (11)
This can mean that tears, blisters or sores can go unnoticed in less visible places, like on the soles of the feet or the heels.
It is believed sores and infections take longer to heal due to high sugar levels in the blood interfering with blood flow and the body’s healing process. (12)
Unexplained weight loss can be determined as when your body weight declines yet you have no valid explanation for it.
A loss of weight can be seen in cases of undiagnosed diabetes. This can be as a result of your body’s inability to use energy efficiently. Therefore the body switches to fat stores or burning muscle for an alternative fuel source. (13, 14)
The progression of diabetes is divided into five stages. The first two stages are pre-diabetes which lead to the development of the disease. (15,16)
The first stage is called compensation. As insulin resistance is starting to show, the pancreas will produce more of the hormone in the attempt to balance out blood sugar levels.
This stage begins when the glucose levels start to rise as the compensation stage is no longer effective. This is still described as a stable state to be in because it can be reversed with a healthy lifestyle. However, if not controlled it will progress to the next stage.
At this point it’s considered an unstable stage. The pancreas begins to stop working efficiently, causing blood sugar levels to rapidly rise.
Stage four is thought to be a steady stage. Even though the pancreas has suffered damage, there’s limited insulin production.
In the final stage the pancreas has suffered significant harm, therefore the body now relies upon regular insulin shots to keep working. This stage is more commonly found in those with type 1 diabetes as opposed to type 2.
There are various treatments available for diabetes. They can include medication, surgery or transplants.
As far as type 2 diabetes is concerned, its highly beneficial to incorporate an active lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight.
Insulin is the number one treatment for diabetes. This can be administered by different methods, such as: injections, via an insulin pen (a pen-like needle) or a pump (small machine which gives insulin shots 24 hours a day). (17)
People with type two diabetes may also need other forms of medication to help control glucose levels, such as metformin. (18)
This is basically weight loss surgery. It can help people with type 2 diabetes lose extra weight and gain back control of their glucose levels. Obese people with type 1 can also benefit from this procedure. (19)
This device is considered an alternative method for checking glucose levels and gauging insulin frequency. (20)
It consists of a system which periodically checks levels 24 hours a day and provides insulin automatically, even during night time.
What is diabetes? Diabetes is a disease which occurs when the body cannot regulate the level of sugar in the blood.
What are the signs of diabetes? Common signs include: increased thirst and urination followed by extreme hunger and fatigue. Other symptoms point towards blurred vision, signs of nerve damage, slow-healing sores and infections or unexplained weight loss.
How do you develop diabetes? There are two main types of diabetes, one is caused by a dysfunction in the immune system which instigates an attack on the pancreas. The second type is generally caused by age, obesity, family history or lifestyle.
How are you diagnosed for diabetes? Diagnosis of diabetes is usually done through blood test which analyses glucose levels. This can be done in different ways, you may be asked to fast for a specific amount of time, or you might be given a glass of juice containing glucose. (21)
What is the best treatment for diabetes? It depends on the type of diabetes. For type 1 it’s daily insulin shots. For people with type 2 there are more options, for many, diabetes can be reversed by losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
What are the long term complications of diabetes? Long term complications can include other illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, nerve damage or loss of sight it can even lead to certain types of cancer. Diabetics also have an increased risk limb amputations because of infection. (22,23)
Is diabetes considered a disability? Yes diabetes is considered to be a disability. Even if the person is healthy and happy it’s still an ‘invisible’ disability. (24)
Is there a cure for diabetes? There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but it can be controlled with the help of insulin. For people with type 2 it can in some cases be reversed with the help of treatment and a healthy lifestyle.
Is diabetes life threatening? Yes, diabetes increases your chances of vital organs like the heart or the kidneys failing. Another medical emergency is called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), this is where the body accumulates high levels of a specific acid. hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can result in unconsciousness and even coma. (25, 26, 27, 28)
Diabetes can be a challenging disease to live with because it requires daily management.
As symptoms can appear subtle at the onset, many go years without knowing they have the disease.
Therefore should you have any reason to believe you could be at risk it’s important to get checked. Failing to do so could lead to further complications in the future.