Almost everyone knows someone who has diabetes, or perhaps you have it yourself. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 422 million adults have diabetes. That is 8.5% of the world population. The number of adults with diabetes has quadrupled since 1980 and has caused a drain on health care systems.
Exactly what is diabetes and how can it affect you ? Diabetes is a disease that affects your body’s ability to produce or use insulin. Insulin is a hormone. When your body turns the food you eat into energy (also called sugar or glucose), insulin is released to help transport this energy to the cells. Insulin acts as a “key.” Its chemical message tells the cell to open and receive glucose. If you produce little or no insulin, or are insulin resistant, too much sugar remains in your blood. Blood glucose levels are higher than normal for individuals with diabetes. There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down the sugars and starches you eat into a simple sugar called glucose, which it uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, or when the cells are unable to use insulin properly, which is called insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is commonly called adult-onset diabetes since it is diagnosed later in life, generally after the age of 45. 90-95 percent of people with diabetes have this type. In recent years Type 2 diabetes has been diagnosed in younger people, including children, more frequently than in the past.
If you have diabetes you must monitor yourself accordingly. Treatment for diabetes requires keeping close watch over your blood sugar levels (and keeping them at a goal set by your doctor) with a combination of medications, exercise, and diet. By paying close attention to what and when you eat, you can minimize or avoid the "seesaw effect" of rapidly changing blood sugar levels, which can require quick changes in medication dosages, especially insulin.
Diabetes can be managed well but the potential complications are the same for type 1 and type 2 diabetes including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, limb amputation, depression, anxiety and blindness. Early diagnosis, optimal treatment and effective ongoing support and management reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications.
A more pronounced form of diabetes is type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes. Sometimes called “juvenile” diabetes, type 1 diabetes usually develops in children and teenagers though it can develop at any age. In those afflicted With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks part of its own pancreas and scientists are not sure why. For whatever reason the immune system mistakenly sees the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as foreign, and destroys them. An attack of this nature is known as "autoimmune" disease.
The Insulin-producing cells in the pancreas called “islets” are the ones that sense glucose in the blood and, in response, produce the necessary amount of insulin to normalize blood sugars. This insulin serves as a “key” to open your cells, to allow the glucose to enter and allow you to use the glucose for energy. If insulin is not present, there is no “key.” Therefore the sugar stays and builds up in the blood. When this happens the body’s cells starve from the lack of glucose. Without proper treatment the high level of “blood sugar” can damage the heart, eyes, kidneys, and the nerves. It can also lead to coma and death.
An individual with type 1 diabetes treats the disease by taking insulin injections. This outside source of insulin now serves as the “key”, bringing glucose to the cells in the body. The challenge with this treatment is that it is usually not possible to know exactly how much insulin to take. The amount is based on many factors, including the patient's emotions and general health, stress levels, exercise and food intake.
Typically type 1 diabetes is managed through use of a variety of insulins. People with type 1 must work closely with their medical providers to find the right insulin treatment for their condition. Even though each administration method, frequency and type of insulin dosage vary on a case-by-case basis, injections may be needed multiple times per day. There are several options-insulin can be delivered through syringes or pens, pumps or new artificial pancreas systems.
For children and others with diabetes the treatment plan is to control the condition in a way that minimizes symptoms; prevents short- and long-term health problems; and helps them to have normal physical, mental, emotional, and social growth and development. In order to achieve this result parents and kids should aim for the goal of keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.