What is Diabetes?

Diabetes, often referred to as diabetes mellitus, is a complex metabolic disease which is characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood due to the body’s inability to use it properly. In other words, it is a chronic, life-long condition where the body fails to properly process the ingested glucose for energy. This can be because of the lack of the insulin hormone made by the pancreas, which allows the glucose to enter and use it for energy, or because the available insulin is not working effectively.

The term is derived from ancient Greek diabetes meaning a passer through and Latin mellitus, meaning mellite or honey-sweet. This term has been used since the second half of the 17 century when medieval doctors observed that the urine of the diabetics was of sweet taste. This is because in diabetes the excess sugar is also found in the urine alongside blood.

Diabetes is an incurable and the fastest growing disease that affects millions of people worldwide. At this, half of the diseased are unaware of having it.

There are three main common signs of diabetes – increased thirst (polydipsia), increased frequency of urination (polyuria) and increased hunger (polyphagia). In addition to these signs, people often complain of feeling fatigue, losing weight and muscle mass, blurry vision and poor wound healing. However causes of diabetes vary depending on the person’s genetic composition, family history, ethnicity, environmental factors and health status, and there is no common cause that fits every type of the disease.

Among the most common types there are distinguished:

Type 1 diabetes when the body does not produce insulin because the pancreas cells that make insulin are attacked and destroyed by the immune system. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being transported into the body cells. It can occur at any age, but typically appears in childhood or adolescence. The symptoms come on quickly within weeks and can be severe. Scientists suppose that this type can be caused by genetic disorders and environmental factors, such as viruses, that may trigger the disease. In order to stay alive patients need to receive insulin every day.

Type 2 diabetes when the insulin secretion is reduced or the body doesn’t use it well. It can occur at any age, but most often strikes middle-aged and elderly people. This is the most common type of disease, with physical inactivity, obesity or overweight being the predisposing factors. At this stage, patients can reverse normal blood sugar level by medications, lifestyle and dietary changes that reduce the production of glucose in the liver and improve the whole body insulin sensitivity.

Gestational diabetes when high blood sugar develops in pregnant women due to placenta produced hormones that make body cells resistant to insulin. Most of the time, it goes away after the child is born, but very often it becomes one of the risk factors for developing diabetes mellitus type 2 later in life.

If left unattended, high blood sugar may damage blood vessels, resulting in serious health consequences. Health problems caused by diabetes of whatever type include heart disease, kidney and nerve damage, blindness, stroke, impotence, dental disease, infections and gangrene of lower limbs. Therefore, the earlier diabetes is diagnosed, the sooner blood sugar levels can be stabilized.

You may be well aware how is diabetes diagnosed. Blood sugar level test results, after fasting for at least 8 hours, over 7 mmol/l is the main diagnostic indicator of the disease. The blood may also be tested for glycated hemoglobin to see if the blood glucose was higher than normal over the course of the past 3 months. Urine tests are used to measure the levels of glucose and ketones in it for diagnosing and monitoring the disease status.

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