Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body does not make and/or properly use insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps the body use energy from sugar, starches and other foods. Glucose is a form of sugar produced when the body digests carbohydrates (sugar and starches) and serves as the body's major fuel for the energy it needs.
When insulin is absent or ineffective, your blood sugar level increases. High blood sugar levels can lead to both short- and long-term complications including heart and kidney disease, amputations, blindness and other serious problems.
Types of Diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes: It results from the immune system's destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Those with Type 1 diabetes must have insulin injections to live. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.
- Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adults (LADA): This type occurs in adult patients and is an autoimmune attack on the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas — like Type 1 diabetes. LADA progresses more slowly than Type 1 and is often misdiagnosed as Type 2 diabetes. People with LADA are not generally overweight. Most patients will require insulin, although oral medications and dietary changes may work initially.
- Type 2 diabetes: Most Americans diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2, a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes glucose. Your body resists the effects of insulin or doesn't produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level.
Type 2 diabetes most often occurs as a result of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. There may be a genetic component as well. The condition can be treated with diet, exercise, oral diabetes medications, non-insulin and insulin injections or some combination of these. In the past, Type 2 diabetes was called adult-onset diabetes because it usually occurred in adults over age 40. Today it's being diagnosed in children as well.
- Gestational diabetes: Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman who has never had diabetes before has a high blood glucose level during pregnancy. This usually happens in the second trimester when the need for insulin increases and the insulin-producing cells don't have the extra capacity to generate sufficient insulin for mother.
- Pre-diabetes (IGT or IFG): This results when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Other terms that represent this category are impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glucose (IFG). Normal fasting blood glucose is below 100 mg/dl. Someone with pre-diabetes has a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl or an A1C level of 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent. If the fasting blood glucose level rises to above 125mg/dl, or an A1C level of greater than 6.4 percent, you have diabetes.
If you have pre-diabetes and are not at your ideal weight, you should reduce your weight by 5 to 10 percent and participate in modest physical activity daily. Early intervention for some with pre-diabetes can actually reverse the problem and return elevated blood glucose levels to the normal range.
Hope for the Cure
All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became medically available in 1921, but a cure is difficult. Pancreatic transplants have been tried with limited success in Type 1 diabetes. In Type 2 patients with morbid obesity, gastric bypass surgery has been successful for some. Gestational diabetes resolves after delivery but increases the risk for development of Type 2 diabetes.
Several new classes of diabetes drugs have been developed in the last 10 years to help patients control blood glucose, and research into the disease continues.
Regardless of diabetes type, without proper treatment and self-management to control blood glucose, diabetes can result in many complications, some of them serious.
Knowledge is power over this condition. Education provides the tools and support needed to make the changes for an active, healthy life.