As the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure, and stroke, diabetes is not a disease not to be taken lightly. In fact, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States alone.
- Diabetes costs the American people more than $322 billion dollars a year to manage (up from $245 billion in 2012).
- 4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes annually.
- 1 in 4 Americans have diabetes and don’t even know it.
- 86 million Americans aged 20 or older have pre-diabetes.
Statistics such as those should serve as a warning to all of us that diabetes is serious, is on the rise, and needs a cure.
Today we will take a look at what diabetes is, common signs and symptoms associated with the disease, the different types of diabetes, and how your local Baltimore physician can help determine whether you have diabetes or not.
What is Diabetes?
Before discussing what diabetes is and how it affects the body, it is important to understand how glucose is processed normally in the human body.
Glucose is your body’s main source of energy. It is needed in the cells that make up your body’s muscles and tissues. Glucose comes from two sources: the food you eat and your liver.
- Your pancreas, a small organ responsible for regulating your body’s blood sugar (among other things), secretes insulin into your bloodstream.
- The insulin then circulates your body facilitating glucose (or sugar) into your body’s cells to be used as energy.
- Insulin also aids in lowering your body’s blood sugar levels if they are elevated and not needed for energy at that time. The insulin will absorb this excess glucose and help the liver store it as a hormone called glycogen which can be used at a later time as an energy source.
As your body’s blood sugar levels drop, the pancreas decreases the amount of insulin it produces and secretes into your body. It is all about balance.
If your pancreas does not work properly and fails to produce enough insulin in your body to balance the levels of glucose in your system, an excess of sugar remains in your bloodstream which develops into the disease diabetes.
This is also the case if the insulin secreted by your pancreas simply does not do its job correctly by failing to facilitate the glucose into your cells. Again, the sugars then build up in your body’s bloodstream causing diabetes.
Different Types of Diabetes
There are 3 main types of diabetes: type I, type II, and gestational diabetes.
Type I Diabetes
Approximately 5-10% of people diagnosed with diabetes have type I diabetes. Also known as “juvenile” diabetes because of its affinity to affect mostly children and teenagers, this disease is insulin – dependent.
Although the cause is unknown, type I diabetes occurs when your immune system attacks your pancreas’ insulin producing cells, therefore, preventing them from secreting insulin into your bloodstream. Understood by your immune system to be toxins, the insulin producing cells are destroyed leaving glucose to build up in your body and throwing your blood sugar balance off.
Type II Diabetes
This kind of diabetes is insulin-resistant and is considered an adult-onset disease affecting mainly those over the age of 35. When fat, muscle, and liver cells do not work properly with insulin to receive glucose for energy purposes, your pancreas will release more insulin into your bloodstream to help the glucose get to its final destination.
At first the pancreas can secrete enough insulin to keep the balance of your blood sugars level. However, over time and with constant increases in blood sugar due to poor food intake, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to facilitate glucose into your body’s cells leaving all of that excess sugar in your bloodstream. As a result you develop what is known as type II diabetes.
Gestational diabetes develops during a woman’s pregnancy because of an increase in hormones that can lead to insulin resistance. All women experience insulin resistance near the end of their pregnancies, though the pancreas can usually counter this by producing adequate amounts of insulin.
Unfortunately, similar to what happens with type II diabetes, sometimes the pancreas cannot keep up with the insulin demands leading to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream.
This type usually resolves itself after the baby is born, though it increases the woman’s chance of later developing type II diabetes. In addition, babies born to mothers who experienced gestational diabetes are more apt to become obese and develop type II diabetes later on in life.
Diabetes Signs and Symptoms
Depending on how high your blood sugar is elevated, some people will not experience any symptoms at all. This is especially true of those with type II diabetes. Yet, with type I diabetes, signs and symptoms usually appear quickly and can be severe:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme hunger
- Vision changes
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Extreme fatigue
- Dry skin
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
- Increased infections
Diagnosis of Diabetes
If you live in the Baltimore area and are concerned that you may have diabetes, consider contacting Dr. Fraiman at The Liver and Pancreas Center. There, Dr. Fraiman can conduct a number of diabetes tests depending on your overall health, signs, and symptoms and help you to determine which type, if any, diabetes you have.
This test will measure your blood sugar levels over the course of two to three months to see if there are any serious issues with balancing your sugar levels. The one advantage to this test is that there is no need to fast or drink any special liquids. Those with an A1C result of greater than or equal to 6.5% are diagnosed with diabetes. This test is also helpful throughout a diabetes treatment plan as it gives insight into whether treatment is working or not.
Fasting Plasma Glucose Test
This test requires you to fast for eight hours before the test is conducted. This means you may not eat or drink anything until testing is complete. If your blood sugar levels come back at higher than or equal to 126 mg/dl without having had any food or drink to elevate those levels, you will be diagnosed with diabetes and start treatment right away.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)
This test will check your blood glucose levels both before and after you drink a specialized sweet drink. The time that elapses between tests is approximately two hours. If your blood glucose levels come in at greater than or equal to 200 mg/dl after drinking a sweet drink designed to elevate your blood sugar, you will be diagnosed with diabetes because there is reason to believe your pancreas is not functioning properly to lower your body’s sugar levels when exposed to increased amounts of glucose.
We hope that you have come to understand the basics of what diabetes is, the different types you can be diagnosed with, what signs and symptoms you might expect to experience before a positive diagnosis, and how your Baltimore physician can determine whether you have diabetes or not.