Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic diseases characterized by high blood sugar (glucose) levels, that result from defects in insulin secretion, or action, or both. Diabetes mellitus, commonly referred to as diabetes (as it will be in this article) was first identified as a disease associated with "sweet urine", and excessive muscle loss in the ancient world. Elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia) lead to spillage of glucose into the urine, hence the term sweet urine.
Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level.
In patients with diabetes, the absence or insufficient production of insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime.
Over time, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, and nerve damage. These types of damage are the result of damage to small vessels, referred to as microvascular disease. Diabetes is also an important factor in accelerating the hardening and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), leading to strokes, coronary heart disease, and other large blood vessel diseases.
This is referred to as macrovascular disease. Diabetes affects approximately 17 million people (about 8% of the population) in the United States. In addition, an estimated additional 12 million people in the United States have diabetes and don't even know it.
From an economic perspective, the total annual cost of diabetes in 1997 was estimated to be 98 billion dollars in the United States. The per capita cost resulting from diabetes in 1997 amounted to $10,071.00; while healthcare costs for people without diabetes incurred a per capita cost of $2,699.00.
During this same year, 13.9 million days of hospital stay were attributed to diabetes, while 30.3 million physician office visits were diabetes related. Remember, these numbers reflect only the population in the United States. Globally, the statistics are staggering.
Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.
The early symptoms of untreated diabetes are related to elevated blood sugar levels, and loss of glucose in the urine. High amounts of glucose in the urine can cause increased urine output and lead to dehydration.
Dehydration causes increased thirst and water consumption.
The inability of insulin to perform normally has effects on protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, that is, one that encourages storage of fat and protein.
A relative or absolute insulin deficiency eventually leads to weight loss despite an increase in appetite.
Some untreated diabetes patients also complain of fatigue, nausea andvomiting.
Patients with diabetes are prone to developing infections of the bladder, skin, and vaginal areas.
Fluctuations in blood glucose levels can lead to blurred vision. Extremely elevated glucose levels can lead to lethargy and coma.
The cause of diabetes depends on the type.
Type 1 diabetes is partly inherited and then triggered by certain infections, with some evidence pointing at Coxsackie B4 virus. There is a genetic element in individual susceptibility to some of these triggers which has been traced to particular HLA genotypes (i.e., the genetic "self" identifiers relied upon by the immune system).
However, even in those who have inherited the susceptibility, type 1 diabetes mellitus seems to require an environmental trigger.
Type 2 diabetes is due primarily to lifestyle factors and genetics.
Following is a comprehensive list of other causes of diabetes:
- Genetic defects of β-cell Function.
- Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY).
- Mitochondrial DNA mutations.
- Genetic defects in insulin processing or insulin action.
- Defects in proinsulin conversion.
- Insulin gene mutations.
- Insulin receptor mutations.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Defects.
- Chronic pancreatitis.
- Pancreatic neoplasia.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Fibrocalculous pancreatopathy.
- Growth hormone excess (acromegaly).
- Cushing syndrome.
- Cytomegalovirus infection.
- Coxsackievirus B.
- Thyroid hormone.
- β-adrenergic agonists.
Insufficient production of insulin (either absolutely or relative to the body's needs), production of defective insulin (which is uncommon), or the inability of cells to use insulin properly and efficiently leads to hyperglycemia and diabetes. This latter condition affects mostly the cells of muscle and fat tissues, and results in a condition known as "insulin resistance".
This is the primary problem in type 2 diabetes. The absolute lack of insulin, usually secondary to a destructive process affecting the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas, is the main disorder in type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, there also is a steady decline of beta cells that adds to the process of elevated blood sugars. Essentially, if someone is resistant to insulin, the body can, to some degree, increase production of insulin and overcome the level of resistance.
Glucose is a simple sugar found in food. Glucose is an essential nutrient that provides energy for the proper functioning of the body cells. Carbohydrates are broken down in the small intestine and the glucose in digested food is then absorbed by the intestinal cells into the bloodstream, and is carried by the bloodstream to all the cells in the body where it is utilized. However, glucose cannot enter the cells alone and needs insulin to aid in its transport into the cells.
Without insulin, the cells become starved of glucose energy despite the presence of abundant glucose in the bloodstream. In certain types of diabetes, the cells' inability to utilize glucose gives rise to the ironic situation of "starvation in the midst of plenty". The abundant, unutilized glucose is wastefully excreted in the urine.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by specialized cells (beta cells) of the pancreas. (The pancreas is a deep-seated organ in the abdomen located behind the stomach.) In addition to helping glucose enter the cells, insulin is also important in tightly regulating the level of glucose in the blood. After a meal, the blood glucose level rises. In response to the increased glucose level, the pancreas normally releases more insulin into the bloodstream to help glucose enter the cells and lower blood glucose levels after a meal.
When the blood glucose levels are lowered, the insulin release from the pancreas is turned down. It is important to note that even in the fasting state there is a low steady release of insulin than fluctuates a bit and helps to maintain a steady blood sugar level during fasting. In normal individuals, such a regulatory system helps to keep blood glucose levels in a tightly controlled range.
As outlined above, in patients with diabetes, the insulin is either absent, relatively insufficient for the body's needs, or not used properly by the body. All of these factors cause elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia).
After time, if production decreases and insulin cannot be released as vigorously, hyperglycemia develops.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease which cannot be cured except in very specific situations. Management concentrates on keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal ("euglycemia") as possible, without causing hypoglycemia. 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).
Patient education, understanding, and participation is vital since the complications of diabetes are far less common and less severe in people who have well-managed blood sugar levels. The goal of treatment is an HbA1C level of 6.5%, but should not be lower than that, and may be set higher. 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.
There are roles for patient education, dietetic support, sensible exercise, with the goal of keeping both short-term and long-term blood glucose levels within acceptable bounds. In addition, given the associated higher risks of cardiovascular disease, lifestyle modifications are recommended to control blood pressure.
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 a combinations of regular and NPH insulin, or synthetic insulin analogs. When insulin is used in type 2 diabetes, a long-acting formulation is usually added initially, while continuing oral medications. Doses of insulin are than increased to effect.
In countries using a general practitioner system, such as the United Kingdom, care may take place mainly outside hospitals, with hospital-based specialist care used only in case of complications, difficult blood sugar control, or research projects. In other circumstances, general practitioners and specialists share care of a patient in a team approach.
Optometrists, podiatrists/chiropodists, dietitians, physiotherapists, nursing specialists (e.g., DSNs (Diabetic Specialist Nurse)), nurse practitioners, or certified diabetes educators, may jointly provide multidisciplinary expertise.