Diabetes a/k/a diabetes mellitus, is a group of metabolic diseases that affect how a person’s body uses glucose. The disease is believed to affect over 312 million individuals throughout the world and is a condition that can affect individuals of any age, men and women alike, and all races. Glucose is an very important source of energy for the cells of the body that make up tissues and muscles. It is the brain’s primary source of fuel. Those forms of diabetes that are chronic include type 1 and type 2. However, there are conditions known as pre-diabetes where glucose levels are higher than normal and gestational diabetes that occurs during pregnancy but may resolve following delivery.
Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age but it commonly appears during childhood or adolescence. This form affects approximately 10% of all reported cases. The cause for type 1 is unclear. It is believed a person’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Then, instead of transporting insulin into the bodily cells where it is needed, sugar builds up in the bloodstream instead.
Type 2, on the other hand, is the more common type of the disease. It is more frequently found in individuals older than 40 and affects the other 90% of reported cases. In type 2, bodily cells become resistant to the insulin’s action, the pancreas cannot produce sufficient insulin to balance the resistance, and instead of being sent on its way to the cells, sugar builds up in the bloodstream.
Symptoms of type 1 and 2 may include polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (frequent thirst) polyphagia (intense hunger), blurred vision, fatigue, slow-to-heal skin ulcers, and frequent infections. The long-term consequences of diabetes are slow to develop and for those individuals that fail to receive medical assistance and who refuse to make necessary and appropriate lifestyle changes, the higher the risk of complications. One such possibility is kidney damage. The kidneys are comprised of millions of blood vessel clusters that filter waste from the blood. Diabetes can damage the delicate balance which, in turn, can lead to kidney failure. Another is neuropathy because excessive sugar has the potential to injure capillary walls that supply nourishment to the nerves. This may result in numbness and tingling of the extremities that may progress to a complete loss of sensation in the affected limb. The risk for cardiovascular disease is elevated. Atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), angina (chest pain), stroke, and more could occur. Then there is retinopathy (eye damage, bacterial and fungal infections of the skin, hearing impairment, nerve damage to the feet, and more.
Individuals with a family history or risk factor for diabetes should be checked periodically on the advice of their primary care physician. Those older than 45 should have blood work performed when they visit their physician for an annual examination. If the results are within normal limits, follow-up every three years is recommended. If they aren’t, they should follow the guidelines set up by their physician. Individuals, regardless of age, with a BMI (body mass index) greater than 25 with other risk factors such as leading a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary intake, and high cholesterol levels should be checked more frequently.
There are countless medications available on the market today via prescription for control of diabetes. Combined with better eating habits, an exercise program approved by the primary care physician, and maintaining a reasonable weight, the average individual can avoid the complications of diabetes. Take steps now to determine if you need to make changes. You will be glad you did.