Diabetes; type 2 diabetes; type 1 diabetes; sugar diabetes; T2DM; T1DM; insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; IDDM; non-insulin-dependent diabetes; juvenile-onset diabetes
Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, resulting in high levels of sugar in the bloodstream. There are many different types of diabetes; the most common are type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which are covered in this article. Gestational diabetes occurs during the second half of pregnancy and is covered in a separate article. Diabetes can also be caused by disease or damage to the pancreas, Cushing's syndrome, acromegaly and there are also some rare genetic forms.
Diabetes mellitus is linked with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, poor blood circulation to the legs and damage to the eyes, feet and kidneys. Early diagnosis and strict control of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help to prevent or delay these complications associated with diabetes. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (regular exercise, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight) is important in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells within the pancreas in response to the intake of food. The role of insulin is to lower blood sugar (glucose) levels by allowing cells in the muscle, liver and fat to take up sugar from the bloodstream that has been absorbed from food, and store it away as energy. In type 1 diabetes (previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus), the insulin-producing cells are destroyed and the body is not able to produce insulin naturally. This means that sugar is not stored away but is constantly released from energy stores giving rise to high sugar levels in the blood. This in turn causes dehydration and thirst (because the high glucose ‘spills over’ into the urine and pulls water out of the body at the same time). To exacerbate the problem, because the body is not making insulin it ‘thinks’ that it is starving so does everything it can to release even more stores of energy into the bloodstream. So, if left untreated, patients become increasingly unwell, lose weight, and develop a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which is due to the excessive release of acidic energy stores and causes severe changes to how energy is used and stored in the body.
In ‘type 2 diabetes’ (previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus), which accounts for 90% of all diabetes, the beta cells do not stop making insulin completely, but the insulin produced does not work properly so it struggles to store the sugar found in the blood. As a consequence, the pancreas has to produce more insulin to compensate for this reduction in insulin function. This is called insulin resistance and is commonly linked to obesity. This type of diabetes is seen more commonly over the age of 40 years but can occur at any age.
There are a range of different symptoms in people with diabetes. They may feel thirsty, pass a large amount of urine, wake up overnight to pass urine, lose weight and have blurred vision. Patients are vulnerable to infections such as thrush and may present with this. Particularly in type 2 diabetes, patients may not be aware of their diabetes for several years and a diagnosis may only be made when they seek treatment for diabetes-related complications such as foot, eye or kidney problems. Some patients may become severely ill and be taken into hospital with an infection and/or very high blood sugar levels.