Demystifying Diabetes

What is diabetes, and how does it affect the body?

Diabetes Mellitus (Diabetes) is a health condition that occurs when the body is unable to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood. When you eat, food is broken down into nutrients such as glucose and absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy. 

Insulin is an essential hormone made by the pancreas that enables glucose to get into the cells of the body to be used for energy. Any excess glucose that is not used as energy is stored in the liver, muscles and fat cells. All these processes require Insulin. 

In diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. This results in high blood glucose as glucose stays in the bloodstream and is unable to reach the cells. Symptoms of high blood glucose include: 

1) Increased thirst 

2) Frequent urination  

3) Unintentional weight loss 

4) Unexplained or constant tiredness

5) Blurred vision 

6) Slow healing of wounds and cuts 

7) Increased frequency of infections such as gum, skin and vaginal infections 

Consistently high blood glucose can lead to other health problems such as eye problems, kidney damage, nerve damage and heart disease.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are several types of diabetes: 

1) Type 1 Diabetes: 

In Type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Therefore, treatment with insulin injections is necessary. Type 1 Diabetes can develop at any age, but it is most often diagnosed in children and young adults. It is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The cause of Type 1 Diabetes is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as toxins or viruses, that trigger the immune system to attack the pancreas cells.

2) Type 2 Diabetes 

This is the most common type of diabetes. In Type 2 Diabetes, the body’s cells respond poorly to insulin (insulin resistance), and/or the body does not produce enough insulin. Over time, insulin secretion also decreases. Type 2 Diabetes tends to occur in older adults, but due to an increasing number of people with obesity, younger individuals can develop it as well. Being overweight is a major risk factor for developing Type 2 Diabetes. It is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Risk factors for developing Type 2 Diabetes include being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, a family history of Type 2 Diabetes, older age, certain ethnicities, and having other health conditions such as high blood cholesterol levels, previous gestational diabetes, and polycystic ovary syndrome.

3) Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)

This is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy in women with no known previous history of diabetes. It is diagnosed through blood tests at the antenatal clinic, usually between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. As high blood glucose levels may affect the developing baby, close monitoring and follow-up are required, along with modifying dietary intake of carbohydrates and regular blood glucose testing. Treatment with insulin injections may be needed if dietary measures alone are insufficient to control blood glucose levels. GDM usually goes away after pregnancy, but women with previous GDM are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future and will require regular check-ups to detect the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

4) Prediabetes 

Before people develop Type 2 Diabetes, they often go through a phase called prediabetes, which may go undetected as they may not have any symptoms. It is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 Diabetes. The good news is that knowing you have prediabetes is an opportunity to prevent Type 2 Diabetes by making dietary modifications, losing weight, and becoming more physically active.

Most forms of diabetes are chronic (lifelong) and all can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Diabetes is diagnosed through an evaluation with your doctor which will include taking a history, including family history, physical examination and blood tests. These are some blood tests that can be done to diagnosed diabetes: 

1) Fasting blood glucose – This test is done first thing in the morning, before breakfast and after an overnight fast of at least 8 hours. 

2) Random blood glucose – This blood test can be done at any time of the day when you have symptoms of high blood glucose. 

3) HbA1c test – This test measures your average blood glucose over the past 2-3 months. The advantage of using this test is that you will not need to fast for the blood test. 

4) Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) – This is a 2-hour test that checks your blood glucose levels before and 2 hours after drinking a special sweet drink that is prepared for you at the clinic. 

In summary, diabetes is a complex condition impacting glucose regulation and requiring proper management. Aspen Diabetes & Endocrine Clinic specializes in diabetes care, offering personalized treatment plans and expert guidance. If you suspect you have diabetes or need support, contact us today for comprehensive care and a healthier future.