Diabetes mellitus (DM), also known as simply diabetes, is a group of longstanding metabolic diseases in which there are high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. This high blood sugar produces the symptoms of frequent urination, increased thirst, and increased hunger. Untreated, diabetes can cause many complications. Short term complications include coma and serious long-term complications include heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, foot ulcers and damage to the eyes.
Diabetes is due to either the pancreas not producing enough insulin, or the cells of the body not responding properly to the insulin produced. There are three main types of diabetes mellitus:
1. Type 1 DM results from the body’s failure to produce enough insulin. This form was previously referred to as “insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus” (IDDM) or “juvenile diabetes”. The cause is unknown.
2. Type 2 DM begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin properly. As the disease progresses a lack of insulin may also develop. This form was previously referred to as “non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus” (NIDDM) or “adult-onset diabetes”. The primary cause is excessive body weight and not enough exercise. 3. Gestational diabetes is the third main form and occurs when pregnant women without a previous history of diabetes develop a high blood glucose level.
Prevention and treatment involves a healthy diet, physical exercise, not using tobacco and being a normal body weight. Blood pressure control and proper foot care are also important for people with the disease. Type 1 diabetes must be managed with insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes may be treated with medications with or without insulin. Insulin and some oral medications can cause low blood sugar. Weight loss surgery in those with obesity is an effective measure in those with type 2 DM. However, this is almost unnecessary because the individual would go back to the usual sedentary life. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after the birth of the baby with good antenatal care.
Globally, as of 2013, an estimated 382 million people have diabetes worldwide, with type 2 diabetes making up about 90% of the cases. This is equal to 8.3% of the adult population, with equal rates in both women and men. Worldwide in 2012 and 2013 diabetes resulted in 1.5 to 5.1 million deaths per year, making it the 8th leading cause of death. Diabetes overall at least doubles the risk of death. The number of people with diabetes is expected to rise to 592 million by 2035. The economic cost of diabetes globally was estimated in 2013 at $548 billion and in the United States in 2012 $245 billion.
The classic symptoms of untreated diabetes are weight loss, polyuria (frequent urination in copious amount), polydipsia (increased thirst), and polyphagia (increased hunger). Symptoms may develop rapidly (weeks or months) in type 1 diabetes, while they usually develop much more slowly and may be subtle or absent in type 2 diabetes.
Several other signs and symptoms can mark the onset of diabetes, although they are not specific to the disease. In addition to the known ones above, they include blurry vision, headache, fatigue, slow healing of cuts, and itchy skin. Prolonged high blood glucose can cause glucose absorption in the lens of the eye, which leads to changes in its shape, resulting in vision changes. A number of skin rashes can occur in diabetes.
History of diabetes
Diabetes was one of the first diseases described, with an Egyptian manuscript from c. 1500 BCE mentioning “too great emptying of the urine”. The first described cases are believed to be of type 1 diabetes. Indian physicians around the same time identified the disease and classified it as madhumeha or “honey urine”, noting the urine would attract ants. The term “diabetes” or “to pass through” was first used in 230 BCE by the Greek Apollonius of Memphis. The disease was considered rare during the time of the Roman Empire, with Galen commenting he had only seen two cases during his career. This is possibly due the diet and life-style of the ancient people, or because the clinical symptoms were observed during the advanced stage of the disease. Galen named the disease “diarrhea of the urine” (diarrhea urinosa). The earliest surviving work with a detailed reference to diabetes is that of Aretaeus of Cappadocia (2nd or early 3rd century CE). He described the symptoms and the course of the disease, which he attributed to the moisture and coldness, reflecting the beliefs of the “Pneumatic School”. He hypothesized a correlation of diabetes with other diseases and he discussed differential diagnosis from the snakebite which also provokes excessive thirst. His work remained unknown in the West until the middle of the 16th century when, in 1552, the first Latin edition was published in Venice.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes were identified as separate conditions for the first time by the Indian physicians Sushruta and Charaka in 400-500 CE with type 1 associated with youth and type 2 with being overweight. The term “mellitus” or “from honey” was added by the Briton John Rolle in the late 1700s to separate the condition from diabetes insipidus, which is also associated with frequent urination. Effective treatment was not developed until the early part of the 20th century, when Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Herbert Best isolated and purified insulin in 1921 and 1922.
People (usually with type 1 diabetes) may also experience episodes of diabetic ketoacidosis; a type of metabolic problems characterized by nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, the smell of acetone on the breath, deep breathing and in severe cases a decreased level of consciousness and is due to accumulation fatty materials in the body as a result of the inability of the body to utilize sugar to generate energy.
A rare but equally severe possibility is hyperosmolar non ketotic state, which is more common in type 2 diabetes and is mainly the result of dehydration (severe loss of water from the body). These symptoms should be quickly noticed in any diabetic patient for a quick medical intervention.
Complications of diabetes
All forms of diabetes increase the risk of long-term complications. These typically develop after many years (10–20), but may be the first symptom in those who have otherwise not received a diagnosis before that time.
The major long-term complications relate to damage to blood vessels. Diabetes doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease and about 75% of deaths in diabetics are due to disease affecting the blood vessels supplying the heart. Other diseases are stroke disease of the blood vessels supplying the hands and legs.
The other complications of diabetes include damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Damage to the eyes, known as diabetic retinopathy, is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina of the eye, and can result in gradual vision loss and potentially blindness. Damage to the kidneys, known as diabetic nephropathy, can lead to tissue scarring, urine protein loss, and eventually chronic kidney disease, sometimes requiring dialysis or kidney transplant. Damage to the nerves of the body, known as diabetic neuropathy, is the most common complication of diabetes. The symptoms can include numbness, tingling, pain, and altered pain sensation, which can lead to damage of the skin. Diabetes-related foot problems (such as diabetic foot ulcers) may occur, and can be difficult to treat, occasionally requiring amputation. Additionally, diabetic neuropathy causes painful muscle wasting and weakness.
Diabetes mellitus Type 1
Type 1 diabetes mellitus is characterized by loss of the insulin-producing beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, leading to insulin deficiency. This type can be further classified as immune-mediated or idiopathic. The majority of type 1 diabetes is of the immune-mediated nature, in which a T-cell-mediated autoimmune attack leads to the loss of beta cells and thus insulin. Most affected people are otherwise healthy and of a healthy weight when onset occurs. Sensitivity and responsiveness to insulin are usually normal, especially in the early stages. Type 1 diabetes can affect children or adults, but was traditionally termed “juvenile diabetes” because a majority of these diabetes cases were in children.
Type 1 diabetes is partly inherited. In genetically susceptible people, the onset of diabetes can be triggered by one or more environmental factors, such as a viral infection or diet. There is some evidence that suggests an association between type 1 diabetes and Coxsackie B4 virus. Unlike type 2 diabetes, the onset of type 1 diabetes is unrelated to lifestyle.
Diabetes mellitus Type 2
Type 2 diabetes mellitus is characterized by insulin resistance, which may be combined with relatively reduced insulin secretion. The defective responsiveness of body tissues to insulin is believed to involve the insulin receptor. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type. In the early stage of type 2, the predominant abnormality is reduced insulin sensitivity. At this stage, high blood glucose can be reversed by a variety of measures and medications that improve insulin sensitivity or reduce glucose production by the liver. Type 2 diabetes is due primarily to lifestyle factors and genetics. A number of lifestyle factors are known to be important to the development of type 2 diabetes, including obesity (defined by a body mass index of greater than thirty), lack of physical activity, poor diet, stress, and urbanization. Dietary factors also influence the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in excess is associated with an increased risk. Eating lots of white rice appears to also play a role in increasing risk. A lack of exercise is believed to cause 7% of cases.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) resembles type 2 diabetes in several respects, involving a combination of relatively inadequate insulin secretion and responsiveness. It occurs in about 2–10% of all pregnancies and may improve or disappear after delivery. However, after pregnancy approximately 5–10% of women with gestational diabetes are found to have diabetes mellitus, most commonly type 2. Gestational diabetes is fully treatable, but requires careful medical supervision throughout the pregnancy. Management may include dietary changes, blood glucose monitoring, and in some cases insulin may be required. Though it may be transient, untreated gestational diabetes can damage the health of the fetus or mother. Risks to the baby include macrosomia (a big baby with high birth weight), congenital heart and central nervous system problems, and skeletal muscle malformations. Increased fetal insulin may inhibit fetal surfactant production and cause respiratory distress syndrome. In severe cases, perinatal death may occur, most commonly as a result of poor placental perfusion due to vascular impairment. Labor induction may be indicated with decreased placental function.
There is no known preventive measure for type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented by a person being a normal body weight, physical exercise, and following a healthy diet. Dietary changes known to be effective in helping to prevent diabetes include a diet rich in whole grains and fiber, and choosing good fats, such as polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, vegetable oils, and fish. Limiting sugary beverages and eating less red meat and other sources of saturated fat can also help in the prevention of diabetes. Active smoking is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes, so smoking cessation can be an important preventive measure as well.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease, for which there is no known cure except in very specific situations. Management concentrates on keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible, without causing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose below normal). This can usually be accomplished with diet, exercise, and use of appropriate medications (insulin in the case of type 1 diabetes; oral medications, as well as possibly insulin, in type 2 diabetes). Medication and change in lifestyle go together in the management of diabetes.
Learning about the disease and actively participating in the treatment is vital for people with diabetes, since the complications of diabetes are far less common and less severe in people who have well-managed blood sugar levels. Attention is also paid to other health problems that may accelerate the deleterious effects of diabetes. These include smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, obesity, high blood pressure, and lack of regular exercise. Specialized footwear is widely used to reduce the risk of ulceration, or re-ulceration, in at-risk diabetic feet.
Metformin is generally recommended as a first line treatment for type 2 diabetes, as there is good evidence that it decreases mortality. Routine use of aspirin, however, has not been found to improve outcomes in uncomplicated diabetes Type 1 diabetes is typically treated with insulin. In those with diabetes some recommend blood pressure levels below 120/80 mmHg; however, evidence only supports less than or equal to somewhere between 140/90 mmHg to 160/100 mmHg.
A pancreas transplant is occasionally considered for people with type 1 diabetes who have severe complications of their disease, including end stage renal disease requiring kidney transplantation.
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