What is Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood. This buildup causes an inability of the body to use the glucose for energy. This inability happens when the insulin does not function correctly. Many people believe that diabetes is a “sugar problem” but it is actually an “insulin problem”.
The process of a body without diabetes is as follows; food enters the stomach and turns it into glucose or sugar. The pancreas then functions to make hormones called insulin. Once the glucose is in the blood, insulin is released. Once the glucose enters the body’s cells, they give the body energy. Glucose cannot get into the cells without help. Insulin helps by working like a key; it unlocks the cell doors and allows glucose to enter the cell. Once the glucose enters the cell, it is used for energy or stored for later use.
When a person has diabetes, the pancreas may not make enough insulin or any at all. In another situation, the body is unable to use the insulin that it makes which causes the sugar to remain in the bloodstream. This causes the blood glucose levels to rise significantly.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 —previously known as juvenile diabetes—develops when the body’s immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that makes the hormone insulin, which regulates blood glucose. Insulin “unlocks” the cells of the body allowing glucose to enter and fuel them. A person with type 1 diabetes has to check their blood sugar levels often and have insulin delivered by injection or a pump in order to survive. This mimics the action of the pancreas by regulating blood glucose. Managing type 1 diabetes becomes a delicate balance of finding the right amount of insulin necessary to keep the blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.
It is estimated that 5–10% of Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. This form of diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although the disease can occur at any age. Having type 1 diabetes increases your risk for many serious complications, including heart disease (cardiovascular disease), blindness (retinopathy), nerve damage (neuropathy) and kidney damage (nephropathy).
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance, a disorder in which the cells do not use insulin properly—either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce it. Insulin is necessary for the body to use glucose for energy; it takes the sugar and starches that your body has broken down into glucose from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems: 1) In the short term, your body will be starved for energy. 2) Over time, high blood glucose levels could damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.
In adults, type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90–95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes previously known as, adult-onset diabetes, is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity.
Source: National Diabetes Information (NDIC)
Gestational diabetes is a form of glucose intolerance diagnosed in some women during pregnancy. Hormones from the placenta help the baby develop but also block the action of the mother’s insulin—insulin resistance—in her body. Insulin resistance makes it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin, making it possible for her to need up to 3 times as much insulin. During pregnancy, gestational diabetes requires treatment to normalize maternal blood glucose levels to avoid complications in the infant.
Gestational diabetes affects about 4% of all pregnant women—approximately 135,000 cases in the United States each year. Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently among African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and American Indians. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 20–50% chance of developing diabetes in the next 5–10 years.
Helpful links for additional information:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Diabetes Education Program
American Diabetes Association