Diabetes Mellitus: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Diabetes mellitus is such a common disease in the modern world that it could probably be considered a household name.
In 2014, an astounding 422 million adults across the globe were diagnosed with diabetes.
As if that weren’t concerning enough, experts believe that by 2040, there will be around 642 million adult diabetics!
I’m willing to bet that anyone with basic math skills can figure out that this isn’t exactly a positive sign of the times… yet it does point to a need for us to educate ourselves on this condition and its major influencing factors.
Diabetes is a complex and lengthy topic, but this article aims to break it down concisely.
In a nutshell, diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone insulin, which results in high blood sugar levels.
Insulin is produced by the beta cells in the pancreas―a process triggered by food consumption. The purpose of insulin is to lower levels of sugar in the blood (glucose).
It goes about this by allowing cells in your muscles, liver and fat to take sugar from your bloodstream and convert it into the precious energy you use to go about your day.
Read on for more information on diabetes mellitus, the symptoms and treatment options.
Diabetes mellitus comes in many forms
There are various types of diabetes but today, there are two main types: the aptly named ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’.
The causes of type 1 are unknown, but there may be genetic factors involved.
Type 2 may be caused by poor diet (including excessive sugar consumption), obesity, inertia or genetics.
Both types could (in rarer instances) result from disease, damage to the pancreas, Cushing’s syndrome, or acromegaly.
In case you’re new to the subject of diabetes, you might want to take a seat for this part…
If the symptoms of diabetes alone weren’t troublesome enough, unfortunately, both types can leave diabetes sufferers at risk from the health complications over the long term.
Some of these complications include:
• Heart attacks
• Poor blood circulation to the legs which leads to intermittent claudication, especially in the lower legs
• Blood vessel or nerve damage in the eyes, feet or kidneys which can ultimately lead to blindness, foot (or feet) amputation or end-stage kidney failure respectively
• Weight loss or obesity
Don’t panic just yet though: although the above probably won’t sound like the greatest news, there are things you can do if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus―and the prognosis depends on the type.
An overview of type 1 diabetes
Nobody knows for sure exactly what causes type 1 diabetes.
However, if you have it, your body gets confused and essentially attacks itself, thereby setting off a chain of dysfunction.
Sounds nasty, yeah?
Although this isn’t painful, it does lead to complications.
Basically, your immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin, and your body is then unable to produce it naturally.
As a result, instead of storing sugar as energy, it is constantly released and blood sugar levels keep on creeping up.
The next challenge is dehydration, as the glucose finds its way into the urine while pulling water along with it simultaneously.
To make matters even worse, your body then gets even more confused; since you’re not producing insulin, it interprets this as a sign that you’re starving.
The body’s response to this is to release as much energy as possible into the bloodstream.
What’s the upshot? Well, before embarking on effective treatment, type 1 diabetics tend to drop plenty of pounds, become lethargic and dizzy, and because of excessive energy release, they potentially develop diabetic ketoacidosis.
An overview of type 2 diabetes
If you have type 2 diabetes, you’ve got the most common type by far. It tends to happen mainly to those over 40 years, but that’s not always the case.
Recently, there’s been an increasing amount of its prevalence among younger adults as well as adolescents.
Type 2 accounts for a whopping 90% of diabetes cases, and it’s the type most likely to result in obesity―if that isn’t what caused it in the first place!
With this type of diabetes mellitus, your beta cells may still make some insulin; however, it doesn’t do its job correctly and has a hard time storing the sugar from your bloodstream.
Your pancreas then goes into overdrive trying to produce enough insulin to compensate for the dysfunction.
You might have heard of this process under the name of ‘insulin resistance’.
The symptoms of diabetes mellitus
As the symptoms of diabetes can be caused by other factors, diabetics often go undiagnosed for years.
When your blood sugar is excessively high, you may start to suffer from an unusual degree of the following:
• Excessive hunger
• Passing excessive volumes of urine, and more frequently
• Brain fog―poor concentration
• Delayed wound healing
• Fatigue and physical weakness
• Weight loss
• Blurred vision
• Yeast infection (thrush)
If left untreated, some diabetics find themselves being rushed into hospital due to dangerously high blood sugar levels.
Short term diabetes symptoms are really not fun.
In the long run, sufferers may develop foot, eye or kidney issues as I mentioned earlier… which is often what prompts them to visit the Doctor in the first place.
If you recognize the aforementioned symptoms, you should head to your Doctor’s office for a proper examination as soon as possible.
Your Doctor will test your urine or carry out a blood sugar test (HbA1c) that estimates your recent blood sugar level.
Treatment for diabetes mellitus
Diabetes treatment aims to reduce levels of circulating glucose to something considered more normal.
Diabetes management might also include moderation of blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately, diabetes does tend to be a lifelong problem with a daily routine required to keep your body functioning properly; it will also mean regular check ups with your healthcare provider.
Treating type 1 diabetes
Insulin treatment is standard for type 1 diabetics, and it saves lives every day.
I’ll admit that it’s a somewhat grueling regime since sufferers must inject insulin two to four times a day for the rest of their lives.
Another (more modern) treatment method for type 1 diabetes is the insulin pump, which administers a constant supply of insulin.
If blood glucose levels are not regulated in this way, it is likely that nerve and blood vessel damage will occur in the eyes, kidneys or feet over time.
Your Doctor will teach you how to measure your glucose levels and adjust insulin doses to keep them in check.
Treating type 2 diabetes
Since type 2 sufferers still make insulin, treatment may consist of lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, which limits the need for insulin production.
The result is lower glucose levels, and fewer symptoms. Failing that, you may be given glucose control tablets, such as:
• Metformin and pioglitazone (for reduction of insulin requirements)
• A sulphonylurea like gliclazide (for stimulation of insulin secretion)
• A DPP4 inhibitor like sitagliptin and a GLP-1 agonist such as liraglutide (for stimulation of insulin production/reduction of appetite)
• A SGLT2 inhibitor like dapagliflozin (for lowering blood sugar via urinary excretion)
It is common that after a few years of treatment, as well as (or maybe instead of) taking tablets, type 2 diabetics may have to inject insulin.
This is because their levels eventually become so low due to over-exhaustion of the beta-cells located in the pancreas. This process is better known as ‘beta-cell failure‘.
It should be noted that whichever type of diabetes you are treating, insulin treatment can cause weight gain and low blood sugar.
Furthermore, some of the tablets can make you feel a little sick or give you diarrhea… genital yeast infections are another possible side effect.
Prevention of diabetes mellitus is better than cure
As always, prevention is better than cure and this definitely applies to diabetes type 2―and any form of diabetes mellitus not caused by genetics.
A clean, healthy organic diet, free from processed and sugar-laden foods is a must.
Maintaining a healthy weight is more likely to keep you in the safe zone, and the same goes for regular exercise, which tend to go hand in hand.
Similarly, the lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the less likely you are to develop diabetes.
Even if you do have diabetes already, adopting the above habits will help you to manage your symptoms and lead a full and active life.