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Finding out you have diabetes can be frightening.
…So learning everything you can about the disease is essential; it can literally help you avoid serious, debilitating complications.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic illness where a person's blood glucose level in the blood are abnormally high.
When we eat, the food we consume is digested and becomes glucose, a sugar, for our bodies to use as fuel. It provides the energy we need every minute of every day. The pancreas is an organ, specifically an exocrine gland, which sits behind the stomach. One of its purposes it to produce a hormone called insulin which helps our cells take up and oxidixe -- or burn -- glucose from the blood. When a person suffers from diabetes, the body either produces too little insulin or it is unable to use the available insulin as efficiently as it should. The result is that too much sugar builds up in the blood.
Long-term, diabetes can lead to severe health issues including blindness, heart disease, and kidney failure. Damage to nerves and blood vessels in the feet can eventually require amputation of the toes or feet. Because of the variety and severity of complications from diabetes, it is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Anyone who thinks that he or she might possibly have diabetes should visit a medical doctor for a complete and proper diagnosis. Diabetes might demonstrate some of the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirstiness
- Unexplained or sudden weight loss
- Feelings of intense hunger
- Sudden changes in vision such as blurriness, shadows or missing areas of vision
- Tingling or especially numbness in hands or feet
- Feeling very tired more than usual or for unexplained reasons
- Unusual dryness of the skin
- Sores or skin ulcers that are slow to heal
- More infections than is normal
If the onset of insulin-dependent diabetes (Type 1 diabetes) is sudden, nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains may accompany some of these other symptoms.
Types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes (previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile-onset diabetes) accounts for 5% - 10% of all diabetes cases that are diagnosed by a physician.
Type 2 diabetes (previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes) accounts for approximately 90% - 95% of all diabetes cases.
Gestational diabetes is a temporary diabetes that is contracted by as many as 2-5% of all pregnant women. Fortunately, it usually goes away after the pregnancy is over. If it is not treated, however, it can cause problems for both the mother and the baby.
Other, more rare types of diabetes can result after surgery or from certain drugs, infections, specific genetic syndromes, malnutrition and other illnesses. These forms of diabetes in aggregate may account for 1-2% of all .
Risk Factors for Diabetes
Some people are at higher risk for getting diabetes. Factors that could increase the risk include obesity (especially when combined with a lack of physical activity), getting older, family history of diabetes, a prior history of gestational diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance. Certain races or ethnicities may be at a higher risk; African-Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are known statistically to be particularly high risk for Type 2 diabetes.
Risk factors for Type 1 diabetes are less well known than for type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors seem to be associated with developing Type 1 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes also occurs more often in African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and people with a family history of having diabetes. Obesity also increases the risk of having gestational diabetes during pregnancy. In addition,n, women who have had to deal with gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a higher risk later for developing Type 2 diabetes. Some medical studies indicate that up to 40% of women with gestational diabetes in their past developed diabetes at a future date.
Treatment for Diabetes
Fortunately, for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, there are many lifestyle factors or behaviors that can help reduce the symptoms of someone living with diabetes: Healthy eating, moderate eating and regular physical activity are important. Close monitoring of glucose levels with diabetes blood glucose meters, along with insulin injections, are also standard therapies for Type 1 diabetes. The quantity of insulin injected should take into account the amount and type of food ingested as well as other daily activities.
The same activities - healthy eating, physical exercise and blood glucose testing - are essential treatments for Type 2 diabetes as well. In addition, people dealing with Type 2 diabetes often require oral medication, insulin, or both in order to maintain their blood sugar levels to within the desired guidelines.
People who have diabetes must be responsible for their own daily regimen. They must stay alert and be disciplined to monitor themselves regularly and and keep the glucose levels in their blood from going outside of the healty range.
Everyone with diabetes needs to visit a qualified physician regularly; these specialists will help to monitor the disease and provide invaluable advice on managing and living with diabetes. People with diabetes may also want to schedule visitis with endocrinologists that specialize in caring for diabetes; ophthalmologists for eye examinations; podiatrists for regular foot examinations and foot care; and dietitians/nutritionists who have the expertise for diabetes management on a day-to-day basis.
Prevention of Diabetes
Because the causes of diabetes are so complex, there is no pill or vaccine that can prevent diabetes.
Studies have shown, however, that regular physical exercise and moderate, healty eating can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes considerably. Type 2 diabetes is also highly correlated with people who are obese, so if you are overweight, getting down to an optimal body weight will greatly help lower your risk.
Medical research is making progress in identifying the precise "triggers" that bias some groups to develop Type 1 diabetes, but actual prevention still is not a reality.
Cure for Diabetes
Medical research facilities and our community at large have three priorities when examing the huge costs associated with diabetes in the U.S. today: Prevention, cure, and improving the care of diabetes sufferers in order avert the devastating and life-threatening complications. The three approaches are actively being pursued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as private researchers.
Both the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are actively researching and involved in diabetes prevention. The NIH is directly involved in and provides funding for research to one day cure both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. With regards to diabetes, the CDC aims most of its focus on ensuring that the accepted science to prevent or deal with complications is carried out by the medical community. The goal is to disseminate information and put medical breakthroughs into practice as quickly as possible.
Presntly, several options to hopfully cure diabetes are being investigated:
- Transplanting the pancreas
- Transplantation of islet cells (which produce insulin)
- Development of an artificial pancreas
These approaches are still a long way from being implemented into mainstream medicine. Challenges that still exist include rejection by the immune system; finding a sufficient quantity of insulin cells; keeping insulin cells alive for the long term; etc. But progress is constantly being made, and everyone feels that one day diabetes will be cured.
– Developed from information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.