One of the most common diseases affecting people all over the world is diabetes mellitus. In the United States alone, an estimated 18.8 million people suffer from this disease while another 7 million people are not even aware that they have diabetes. What is even more shocking is that the number of people suffering this condition is still on the rise. With no cure available for diabetes as of now, this disease continues to make the lives of many people miserable and distressing.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is referred to as the condition where the body does not produce adequate insulin or fails to utilize the available insulin properly, resulting in an increase in the blood sugar level. Our body derives its energy from glucose which is obtained from the foods we eat. The cells in our body make use of the glucose to produce energy. The job of transferring the glucose from the blood stream to the cells is carried out by the hormone insulin, produced by the beta cells in the pancreas. So when insulin is not available or is not properly utilized, the cells are deprived of glucose and the extra glucose piles up in the blood stream, leading to high blood sugar levels.
Why the name diabetes mellitus?
The term diabetes, first coined by Aretaeus, a Greek physician who lived during 30-90 CE is derived from the Greek word for siphon. On discovering a disease that caused the patients to pass water in excess amounts (similar to a siphon) Aretaeus named it diabainein which later came to be known as diabetes.
The word mellitus was added to the term diabetes in the year 1675 by a physician and anatomist from England, Thomas Willis. Mel is the Latin word for honey and mellitus referred to the excess glucose in the urine of diabetic patients, which was sweet like honey.
Diabetes and its types
Diabetes exists in mainly three forms and they are
- Type 1 diabetes – Also known as juvenile diabetes, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that can affect people at any ages, but is most commonly occurring in children and those just reaching adulthood. In type 1 diabetes, the body fails to produce insulin as the beta cells responsible for producing this hormone are destroyed by the body’s own immune system. As there is no insulin available, the blood sugar level rises. Although the reasons for the onset of this disease are still not known, scientists consider genetics and environmental factors as possible causes. About 10% of all the people with diabetes are found to have type 1 diabetes.
- diabetes Type 2 – Type-2 diabetes, being the most common, is also characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood. However, in this case, although the body produces insulin, the cells fail to make use of the insulin. This condition is known as insulin resistance. Since the cells do not respond to normal levels of insulin, more and more insulin will be required to control the blood sugar level. Type 2 diabetes, which is commonly seen in adults, is mainly caused by leading a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and eating unhealthy food.
- Gestational diabetes – This type of diabetes, occurring in women at the time of pregnancy, causes the blood sugar level to rise due to the effect of pregnancy hormones on insulin. These hormones make the cells respond less to the effects of insulin. In most women, gestational diabetes subsides soon after their pregnancy. However, women who have had this type diabetes are at a higher risk of developing diabetes.
Symptoms of diabetes
The first and most consistent symptom of diabetes is of course the high levels of sugar in the blood. However, this symptom is not noticeable unless you do a blood test. There are other obvious warning signs by which a person can be suspected to have this disease. In order to diagnose the condition early enough, it is important that people be aware of these symptoms. Without appropriate treatment, diabetes can cause serious long term complications. The most common symptoms of diabetes include
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Rapid weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Dry skin
- Wounds that are slow healing
- Frequent yeast infections
- Numbness or tingling sensation in the hands and feet
Since many of the symptoms of diabetes resemble the symptoms of other common ailments, they are often ignored. If you experience any of these symptoms on a long term basis, make sure to consult a doctor and get yourself checked for diabetes.
Diagnosis of diabetes
To diagnose this disease, doctors conduct blood tests to check the level of glucose in the blood or plasma. The common blood tests used to diagnose diabetes include
Fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) –The fasting plasma glucose test, employed to detect pre-diabetes and diabetes, measures the blood glucose level of an individual who has been fasting for at least eight hours. Mostly because of its inexpensiveness and convenience, the FPG is the most preferred glucose test. Given below is the interpretation of the results of the FPG test:
- For values 99 mg/dL or below – The person is normal.
- For values 100 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL – The person has impaired fasting glucose and a high susceptibility risk to type 2 diabetes.
- For values 126 mg/dL and above – The person is diabetic. This result is confirmed by a repeat test
Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) – This test, used for detecting pre-diabetes has a greater reliability when compared with FPG although not as convenient. The person is required to fast for at least eight hours after which he or she is given a drink containing 75g glucose dissolved in water. Exactly 2 hours after the person has drunk this liquid, the plasma glucose level is measured. Given below is the interpretation of the results of the OGTT test:
- For values 139 mg/dL or below – The person is normal.
- For values 140 mg/dL to 199 mg/dL – The person has impaired fasting glucose and is at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- For values 200 mg/dL and above – The person has diabetes. This result is confirmed by carrying out the test on some other day.
Random glucose tolerance (RGT) test – This test does not require the person to fast and hence also called casual plasma glucose test. If the individual with blood-glucose levels exceeding 200 mg/dL, together with symptoms like increased thirst, frequent urination and rapid weight loss, then he or she is termed diabetic.
Treatment for diabetes
The treatment of diabetes varies with the type of diabetes you have. For type 1 diabetes, treatment involves insulin injections, diabetic diet and exercise, whereas for type-2 diabetes exercise, diet and lifestyle changes are the main treatment methods. Al l these methods primarily aim for controlling the blood sugar level. However, when these treatment methods fail to be effective, oral medications are prescribed. If that is also not effective in controlling the blood glucose level, insulin treatment is employed.
Risk factors of diabetes
The risk of being affected with diabetes is higher in some people. Risk factors that can lead to this disease include:
- Family history of diabetes
- Increase in age
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Lack of exercise or physical activity
- Being African American, Native American, Asian American, Hispanic or from the Pacific islands
Diabetes, if poorly managed or left untreated, can cause several serious complications such as
- Heart disease
- Eye complications such as blindness, cataract, retinopathy and glaucoma
- Foot complications such as neuropathy, foot ulcers, calluses and amputation
- Mental and emotional complications
- Hearing complications
- Skin complications
- Diabetic coma
- Oral complications such as periodontitis, dry mouth, ulcers, soreness, infections, cavities and thrush
Ways to manage diabetes
The following tips will help you mange diabetes and reduces the risk of serious complications:
- Eat a well balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Manage stress
- Get plenty of sleep
- Quit smoking
- Take diabetic medications as prescribed by your doctor
- Check your blood glucose levels regularly
- Check your blood pressure and cholestrol
- Maintain proper foot care
- Get all the information you can about diabetes
It is often with utter shock that a person realizes he or she is diagnosed with diabetes. The thought of how the disease will affect their life style and the lifelong medications that needs to be taken is all the more distressing to the patient. While diabetes can be really challenging for the patient, it is possible to manage the disease by following an altered lifestyle. There are certain things that you should do and certain others that you should not do as a diabetic patient. Diabetes can be managed effectively as long as you stick to these rules. It will also help you to lead a normal life and prevent further complications.