Diabetes mellitus (sometimes called “sugar diabetes”) is a condition that occurs when the body can’t use glucose (a type of sugar) normally. Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells. The levels of glucose in the blood are controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is made by the pancreas. Insulin helps glucose enter the cells.
In diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body can’t respond normally to the insulin that is made (type 2 diabetes). This causes glucose levels in the blood to rise, leading to symptoms such as increased urination, extreme thirst, and unexplained weight loss.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent diabetes)
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This type of diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes, accounts for 10-15% of all people with the disease. It can appear at any age, although commonly under 40, and is triggered by environmental factors such as viruses, diet or chemicals in people genetically predisposed. People with type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin several times a day and follow a careful diet and exercise plan.
Type 2 diabetes (previously known as non-insulin dependent diabetes)
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 85-90% of all people with the disease. This type of diabetes, also known as late-onset diabetes, is characterised by insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. The disease is strongly genetic in origin but lifestyle factors such as excess weight, inactivity, high blood pressure and poor diet are major risk factors for its development. Symptoms may not show for many years and, by the time they appear, significant problems may have developed. People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease. Type 2 diabetes may be treated by dietary Glucofort changes, exercise and/or tablets. Insulin injections may later be required.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)
GDM, or carbohydrate intolerance, is first diagnosed during pregnancy through an oral glucose tolerance test. Between 5.5 and 8.8% of pregnant women develop GDM in Australia. Risk factors for GDM include a family history of diabetes, increasing maternal age, obesity and being a member of a community or ethnic group with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. While the carbohydrate intolerance usually returns to normal after the birth, the mother has a significant risk of developing permanent diabetes while the baby is more likely to develop obesity and impaired glucose tolerance and/or diabetes later in life. Self-care and dietary changes are essential in treatment.
Causes Of Diabetes
Diabetes can be caused by too little insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas to control blood sugar), resistance to insulin, or both.
To understand diabetes, it is important to first understand the normal process of food metabolism. Several things happen when food is digested:
A sugar called glucose enters the bloodstream. Glucose is a source of fuel for the body.
An organ called the pancreas makes insulin. The role of insulin is to move glucose from the bloodstream into muscle, fat, and liver cells, where it can be used as fuel.
People with diabetes have high blood sugar. This is because their pancreas does not make enough insulin or their muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond to insulin normally, or both.
There are three major types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood. The body makes little or no insulin, and daily injections of insulin are needed to sustain life.
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 and makes up most of all cases of diabetes. It usually occurs in adulthood. The pancreas does not make enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels normal, often because the body does not respond well to the insulin. Many people with type 2 diabetes do not know they have it, although it is a serious condition. Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common due to the growing number of older Americans, increasing obesity, and failure to exercise.