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What Is Diabetes?

Written By onci on Monday, February 6, 2012 | 6:46 PM

Diabetes is a common condition caused by your body being unable to break down glucose and use it effectively. Glucose comes from broken down carbohydrates, particularly found in foods such as bread, rice, sugary foods, fruit and dairy products. Glucose is important for providing us with energy for all sorts of things in the body, such as movement, or repairing any damage to the body. Carbohydrates are commonly broken down by the hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, but for people with diabetes there is a problem with this process. Either the insulin they produce is unable to break down the carbohydrates, or their bodies do not produce insulin. This means that they have difficulty getting the glucose they need to use in their bodies.
There are thought to be two types of diabetes; Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes is caused by the body being unable produce any or enough insulin to use the glucose, usually because the insulin producing cells have been destroyed. This destruction is predicted to be caused by a virus. This means that glucose can build up in the blood stream. Type I diabetes is particularly common in those under 40, especially children.
In comparison to those with Type I diabetes, those with Type II can still produce insulin in the pancreas. However, this can prove to be not enough insulin, or insulin which does not work as it should do. This is known as Insulin Resistance. As a result, the glucose in the body is only partially broken down, and can build up in the blood stream. Type II diabetes has always been more common in those over 40, although it can be found at any age. Type II diabetes is also the most common form of diabetes, accounting for roughly 85-95% of all those who have diabetes.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
Particularly for those with undiagnosed and untreated diabetes, there are a few symptoms of diabetes that can be noted. These are due to the build up of glucose in the blood. A particularly common symptom of diabetes is using or needing the toilet more than you usually would do, a symptom which can be particularly notable during the night. This happens because the body tries to remove out the excess glucose in the blood stream by passing urine. Other common symptoms include feeling thirsty, feeling tired, and a decrease in the bulk of your muscles or in your overall weight.
Other symptoms can be noted by some people but not by others. These include a blurring in your vision, which is caused by a drying in the lens of your eye. You may also experience more cramps than you normally would do, or constipation. Finally, you may find that the area around your penis or vagina becomes itchy, and that you may develop thrush regularly. These are less common symptoms than those listed above, but can similarly be valuable signs that you may have diabetes.
If you have diabetes, there is a risk that large amounts of glucose can build up in your blood stream as it is not being used or broken down effectively by the body’s insulin. This is known as a hyperglycaemia. This can cause various symptoms, often common to the symptoms of diabetes listed above but appearing more strongly and quickly. These include feeling particularly thirsty, a blurring of the vision, feeling tired and sleepy, feeling the need to pass urine often and a dry mouth. It is important that if you experience these symptoms you seek treatment or medical assistance. A hyperglycaemia is usually straightforward to treat, but if left untreated can prove to be more serious and lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. This is when the body begins to break down the fats in the body as there is no glucose to use, causing a build up of acid in the blood stream which can cause unconsciousness and, if very serious, even death.
In contrast to a hyperglycaemia, a hypoglycaemia, or "hypo" for short, is when the body is experiencing a shortness of glucose in the bloodstream, caused if the insulin in your body removes too much insulin. The symptoms of a hypo include feeling weak, hungry and nauseas, sweating, a tingling in your lips, and feeling irritable in yourself. If left untreated, a hypo can lead to slurred speech and unconsciousness, and medical assistance should be requested. However, a hypo in the short term can be treated simply and quickly by eating some sugary food.
The symptoms of Type I diabetes are often found to develop more quickly and seriously than Type II, which are often more moderate and develop over time. If you feel you are experiencing any symptoms of diabetes, it is important that you discuss this with your doctor and begin to treat yourself. It is particularly important to seek medical help if you are experiencing stomach pains, a high temperature, nausea, a stomach pain, and a fruity smell in your breath (smelling of nail varnish remover or pair drops).
The Risk Factors of Diabetes
Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to break down glucose for use in the body, either because there is no insulin to do this (Type I) or because the insulin does not work as it should (Type II). But what are the risk factors of diabetes? Are some people more at risk than others of developing the disease?
As with many diseases, there are certain factors which have been found to make some people more likely to develop diabetes than others. One such factor is if any of your close family have developed diabetes. Close family is usually classed as your parents or siblings, but if you have a line of relatives, such as your grandparents and their parents, who have had diabetes, it may be worth testing yourself to see if you have the disease too.
Type II diabetes commonly develops in white people when they are over 40, and it is worth testing yourself if you fall into both these categories just to make sure that you do not have the disease, particularly as the symptoms of Type II diabetes can develop slowly and may not be that obvious. Similarly, if you are 25 and are Asian, Black or from an ethnic minority group, you should also consider testing yourself as Type II diabetes has been found to start developing at this age.
Those who are overweight are at risk of developing diabetes. As well as considering losing weight, you should test yourself for diabetes if you are a woman and have a waist measuring over 31 inches, if you are Black or White man and have a waist measuring 37 inches or more, or if you are an Asian man and have a waist measuring 35 inches or over. Those who have high blood pressure and a history of heart problems or heart attacks should also be tested for diabetes, as should those who have experienced a stroke.
Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome have a greater risk of developing diabetes, particularly if they are overweight too. Also at risk are women who have developed gestational diabetes.
Finally, those who have severe mental health problems are also at risk of developing diabetes, and if possible shout be tested for the disease.
Treatment of Diabetes
To be told that you have diabetes may feel like a big change to your life, and certainly diabetes needs to be treated carefully and may require certain changes to be made in your lifestyle. However, diabetes is usually straightforward to treat. Your doctor will discuss the treatments that he recommends in detail with you, but here we outline some of the treatments available for diabetes.
There are various treatments available, varying not only depending on whether you have Type I or Type II diabetes, but on your individual requirements and lifestyle. Those with Type I diabetes will find that their doctor recommends several insulin injections on a daily basis, due to the body’s inability to produce insulin itself. As a result the treatment regime of Type I diabetes is particularly strict and requires full cooperation by the individual to the regime. You may also find that your doctor recommends a diet with particular foods and physical activity. Finally, those with Type I diabetes need to pay close attention to their blood glucose levels, and therefore need to test themselves several times each day to ensure that they are at a healthy level.
The treatment for Type II diabetes in comparison can be a lot less strict, and in over half of cases will not actually require insulin injections. Your doctor may instead focus on enforcing a healthy diet or regular physical activity, particularly if you are overweight. Those with Type II diabetes also need to check their blood glucose levels at home to ensure that they are healthy, and in some cases will use insulin, either through injections or in an oral form.
Your doctor will plan a course of treatment that will work the best way for you to keep your blood glucose levels at normal or near normal. This means that you need to stick to this plan to get the best results. If you hear conflicting advice from elsewhere, or do not feel comfortable with the plan, it is important that you discuss your concerns with your doctor before you make any changes.
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