Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes melitus has become an epidemic in North America with about 1 million people over age 20 diagnosed with the condition each year. About 17 million people, or 6 percent of the population, have diabetes mellitus, a disease in which the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that converts sugar into energy.

Diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death in North America, can cause serious health complications such as blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage and the need for lower-extremity amputations. In addition, diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, dramatically increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.

There are three main types of diabetes, including:

  • Type 1 Diabetes — Aboout 5 percent to 10 percent of those with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. It’s considered an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Patients with type 1 diabetes have very little or no insulin, and must take insulin everyday. Although the condition can appear at any age, typically type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in children and young adults, which is why it was previously called juvenile diabetes.
  • Type 2 Diabetes — Accounting for 90 percent to 95 percent of those with diabetes, type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the condition. Usually, it’s diagnosed in adults over age 40 and 80 percent of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Because of the increase in obesity, type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed at younger ages and now is frequently seen in children. Initially in type 2 diabetes, insulin is produced, but the insulin can’t function properly, leading to a condition called insulin resistance. Eventually, most people with type 2 diabetes suffer from insulin resistance and decreased insulin production.
  • Gestational Diabetes — Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. It occurs more often in African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and people with a family history of diabetes. Typically, it disappears after delivery, although the condition is associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life.

If you think that you have diabetes, visit your doctor immediately for a definite diagnosis. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Feeling very tired much of the time
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Very dry skin
  • Sores that are slow to heal
  • More infections than usual

Some people may experience only a few symptoms that are listed above. About 50 percent of people with type 2 diabetes don’t experience any symptoms and don’t know they have the disease.

All forms of diabetes have been treatable, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that usually cannot be cured. Treatments include:

  • Medications
  • Pancreas transplants (Type 1 DM)
  • Gastric bypass surgery (Type 2 DM)
  • Blood pressure control
  • Smoking cessation
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight

Adequate treatment of diabetes is important to avoid complications.