This week learn about the different kinds of diabetes.
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Diabetes mellitus, more commonly referred to simply as diabetes, is a disease is marked by high blood sugar, that is, a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream. Glucose is a very simple form of sugar, and it is the body’s main energy source. After food is digested and the more complex sugars are broken down into glucose, the glucose enters the bloodstream, where it circulates throughout the body. However, in order for the cells of the body to use the glucose for energy, a chemical called insulin must help the glucose exit the bloodstream and enter the cells. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, an organ located just behind the lower stomach. In people with Type 1 diabetes, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are attacked and killed off by the body’s own immune system, so little to no insulin is produced, and glucose is left to build up in the bloodstream. In people with Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin normally, but the body’s cells become resistant to its effects. Therefore, the pancreas must work harder to produce enough insulin to bring a sufficient amount of glucose into the cells. Over time, the pancreas cannot keep up with the demand for insulin, and glucose builds up in the bloodstream. A third type of diabetes, called gestational diabetes, is similar to Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes sometimes occurs in pregnant women, because certain hormones produced during pregnancy increase the body’s resistance to insulin. Gestational diabetes is usually temporary, and blood sugar levels return to normal following childbirth.
The buildup of glucose in the bloodstream causes similar symptoms for people affected by any type of diabetes. These symptoms include increased thirst and urination as the body tries to expel excess glucose from the bloodstream, fatigue, hunger, and weight loss as the cells of the body are starved of their energy source, and vision problems, sores, and nerve pain as the buildup of glucose in the bloodstream damages small blood vessels. In type 1 diabetes, these symptoms often appear suddenly during childhood or adolescence, as some environmental factor like an illness or exposure to harsh weather triggers the immune system to attack the pancreas. For this reason, Type 1 diabetes was once called juvenile diabetes, but further research has shown that Type 1 diabetes can be triggered later in life, and Type 2 diabetes may appear early in life. In Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes, symptoms often gradually appear later in life, as the cells slowly build up resistance to insulin. Several factors, including being overweight, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and advanced age contribute to the body’s insulin resistance.
Because the underlying cause of Type 1 diabetes is a lack of insulin, treatment involves injecting insulin with a needle or pump. While those with Type 1 diabetes are urged to monitor their diet and exercise, Type 1 diabetes is irreversible and cannot be controlled with a healthy lifestyle alone. Type 2 diabetes may be controlled with changes to diet and lifestyle, oral medications, or insulin injections, depending on how far the disease has progressed. Another archaic term for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes was insulin dependant and non-insulin dependant diabetes, respectively, but these terms are no longer used, as some Type 2 diabetics require insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels. An essential part of treatment for any type of diabetes is the tracking of blood sugar levels with a glucose monitor. If the bloodstream contains too much or too little glucose, life threatening complications can suddenly occur, often preceded by worrisome symptoms like confusion, dizziness, weakness, seizures, and hallucinations.
While Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes share many of the same symptoms, their root cause, population affected, and treatment options are very different. Understanding these differences will give you a better understanding of the lives of the over 400 million diabetics worldwide.