What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus (commonly referred to as diabetes) is a disease of the pancreas, an organ behind your stomach that produces the hormone insulin. Insulin helps the body use food for energy. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas either cannot produce enough insulin, uses the insulin incorrectly, or both. Insulin works together with glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream to help it enter the body’s cells to be burned for energy. If the insulin isn’t functioning properly, glucose cannot enter the cells. This causes glucose levels in the blood to rise, creating a condition of high blood sugar or diabetes, and leaving the cells without fuel.

What are the common types of diabetes?

There are two common forms of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

  • Type 1: Type 1 diabetes occurs because the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (beta cells) are damaged. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin, so sugar cannot get into the body’s cells for use as energy. People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin injections to control their blood glucose. Type 1 is the most common form of diabetes in people under age 20-30, but it can occur at any age. Ten percent of people with diabetes are diagnosed with type 1.
  • Type 2: In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes insulin, but it either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes may sometimes be controlled with a combination of diet, weight management and exercies. However, treatment also may include oral glucose – lowering medications or insulin injections.

Generally, type 2 diabetes is more common in people over age 40 that are overweight. However, the prevalence of obesity among people in North America has increased the number of people under age 40 who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Nine out of 10 people with diabetes have type 2

What causes diabetes?

Health care providers do not yet know what causes diabetes. The following factors may increase your chance of getting diabetes:

  • Family history of diabetes or inherited tendency
  • African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian-American race or ethnic background
  • Being overweight (20 percent or more over your desired body weight)
  • Physical stress (such as surgery or illness)
  • Use of certain medications, including steroid and blood pressure medications
  • Injury to pancreas (such as infection, tumor, surgery or accident)
  • Autoimmune disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal blood Cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Alcohol (risk increases with years of heavy alcohol use)
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy

It is important to note that sugar itself does not cause diabetes. Eating a lot of sugar can lead to tooth decay, but it does not cause diabetes.

 How is diabetes managed?

There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be treated and controlled. The goals of managing diabetes are to:

  1. Keep your blood glucose levels as near to normal as possible by balancing food intake with medication and activity.
  2. Maintain your blood cholesterol and triglyceride (lipid) levels as near the normal ranges as possible by decreasing the total amount of fat to 30% or less of your total daily calories and by reducing saturated fat and cholesterol.
  3. Control your blood pressure. (Your blood pressure should not go over 130/80.)
  4. Decrease or possibly prevent the development of diabetes-related health problems.

You hold the keys to managing your diabetes by:

  • Planning what you eat and following a balanced meal plan
  • Exercising regularly
  • Taking medication, if prescribed, and closely following the guidelines on how and when to take it
  • Monitoring your blood glucose and blood pressure levels at home
  • Keeping your appointments with your health care providers and having laboratory tests completed as ordered by your doctor.

What you do at home every day affects your blood glucose more than what your doctor can do every few months during your check-ups.