Diabetes affects many parts of the body

Although caused by high blood sugar levels, diabetes can affect other parts of the body such as the hearts, eyes, kidneys and skin

Frequently asked questions

What is diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus is a life long illness due to elevated levels of glucose (a kind of sugar) in blood. Most of the food we eat is ultimately broken down into glucose in the body at the end of the digestive process and enters the blood. This load of glucose is then carried to the cells by the blood stream, to be used as fuel to generate energy. In healthy people, there is a hormone called 'insulin' which helps to transport glucose from the blood stream to the cells. It works like a key opening the door to enter into cells. When you have diabetes, either your body doesn't make enough insulin to transport glucose into cells or the insulin in the body doesn't act properly. So your blood glucose is not transported into the cells. Hence your body cells are starving amidst a sea of glucose, as the 'key' is not functioning to open the door and let it in.

Types of diabetes

Diabetes may be primary or secondary. Secondary diabetes is rare, occurs due to some other disorder like liver disease, pancreatic or other endocrine disorder, due to certain drug usage etc. Primary diabetes is divided into two main groups.

Type I diabetes - represents 10% of the diabetic population

Type II diabetes - represents 90% of the diabetic population

Type I diabetes is commonly seen in the younger population. In this group, there is a deficiency of insulin in the body. So invariably their treatment requires insulin replacement. These patients are usually less than 20 years at presentation, lean and can present with weight loss, increased frequency of passing urine and a marked increase of thirst. They can come with ketoacidosis if they ignore the above symptoms.

Type II diabetes is the most common out of the two and seen in the older population, usually > 40 years. Very often they are over weight and consume a diet rich in refined sugars. They present late as the onset of illness is very gradual and hardly noticeable and by the time they are diagnosed the disease has already affected some organs.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes, as the name implies is a stage before developing diabetes. People who develop type II diabetes mellitus almost always have a prediabetes stage, where their blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be labeled as having diabetes.

Prediabetes was earlier referred to as Impaired glucose tolerance.

What are the complications of diabetes?

Complications of diabetes occur due to long standing high blood glucose levels. High blood glucose levels can speed up the clogging of blood vessels supplying many organs of the body.

Although strict control of blood sugar makes complications less likely, even the very best control may not be able to eliminate all complications! Your risk of developing complications increases with the length of time you have diabetes.

Diabetes mainly affects the eyes, kidneys, nerves, large and small blood vessels and skin.

What causes diabetes?

You cannot catch diabetes from some one else having it nor can you develop diabetes by simply eating a lot of sugar!

What causes diabetes is not very clear. Type I diabetes occurs due to an absolute deficiency of insulin. This happens when there is a destruction of insulin producing cells in the pancreas. The destruction of pancreatic cells may happen due to viral infections and some times it is attributed to autoimmune reactions or body's own cell reactions.

Type II diabetes is a manifestation of genetic predisposition, in the presence of other environmental factors like diet rich in refined sugar, sedentary life style and obesity.

Will your children get diabetes?

Yes and No.

If you have diabetes, your children carry a higher risk of developing diabetes. This risk is greater with a diabetic father (1:20 -1:40) than with a diabetic mother (1:40 - 1:80).

If one child in a family has diabetes, each sibling has 1:20 risk of developing diabetes.

All this means that if parents have diabetes, their children will not always get it. But they do carry an increased chance in the presence of other risk factors.

Can diabetes be cured?

Several approaches to "cure" Diabetes are being pursued like: pancreas transplantation, and the development of an artificial pancreas, genetic manipulation etc. But each of these approaches still have many challenges.

Can diabetes be prevented?

A number of studies have shown that regular physical activity and healthy eating habits can significantly reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes. It also appears to be associated with obesity. Researchers are making progress in identifying the exact genetics and "triggers" that predispose some individuals to develop type 1 diabetes, but prevention as well as a cure remains elusive.

What is the treatment for diabetes?

Treatment is life long!

All diabetics require diet therapy because good blood sugar control is unlikely with medicines alone. Some patients achieve good sugar control with dietary adjustment alone and do not require medicines.

Patients who have type I diabetes and who are under the age of 40 years, are usually treated with insulin. Others are treated with tablets, depending on the individual, considering their blood sugar status, obesity, life style etc. Tablets are contraindicated in pregnancy.

What Symptoms Do I Get When My Blood Sugar Is High?

When your blood sugar is high, you will always feel thirsty and will make a lot of urine. You make a lot of urine in order to get rid of excess sugar in the blood.

When you have high blood sugar levels for some time, you may notice that you have lost weight in spite of having a more than normal appetite. One might feel lifeless and tired due to lack of energy. There may be sores or skin infections that would not heal and you may frequently get urine infections and fungal infections.

What Symptoms Do I Get When My Blood Sugar Is Low?

They are: hunger, nervousness, shakiness, sweating, irritability and a feeling of faint and confusion.

Immediately check your blood sugar. If 70mg/dl or below: you should take some glucose, tea with sugar or fruit juice or a soft drink and recheck 15 minutes later. If your blood sugar is still low, you can repeat the above and eat a snack till you get your sugar up to the normal level. If you do not act swiftly you may go into a state of coma. So, if you have developed the above signs and there's no way of checking your blood sugar just go ahead and treat yourself with a food containing sugar.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

There is no simple answer to what causes type 2 diabetes. While eating sugar, for example, doesn't cause diabetes, eating large amounts of sugar and other rich, fatty foods, can cause weight gain. Most people who develop diabetes are overweight. Scientists do not fully understand why obesity increases someone's chances of developing diabetes, but they believe obesity is a major factor leading to type 2 diabetes. Current research should help explain why the disorder occurs and why obesity is such an important risk factor.

A major cause of diabetes is insulin resistance. Scientists are still searching for the causes of insulin resistance, but they have identified two possibilities. The first could be a defect in insulin receptors on cells. Like an appliance that needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet, insulin has to bind to a receptor to function. Several things can go wrong with receptors. There may not be enough receptors for insulin to bind to, or a defect in the receptors may prevent insulin from binding.

The second possible cause involves the process that occurs after insulin plugs into the receptor. Insulin may bind to the receptor, but the cells don't read the signal to metabolize the sugar. Scientists are studying cells to see why this might happen.

Who develops type 2 diabetes?

Age, sex, weight, physical activity, diet, lifestyle, and family health history all affect someone's chances of developing type 2 diabetes. The chances that someone will develop diabetes increase if the person's parents or siblings have the disease. Experts now know that diabetes is more common in African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians than whites. They believe this is the result of both heredity and environmental factors, such as diet and lifestyle. The highest rate of diabetes in the world is in an Arizona community of American Indians called the Pimas. While the chances of developing diabetes increase with age, gender isn't a risk factor, although African American women are more likely to develop diabetes than African American men.

While people can't change family history, age, or race, it is possible to control weight and physical fitness. A doctor can decide if someone is at risk for developing diabetes and offer advice on reducing that risk.