Diabetes, Demystified

Diabetes is short for diabetes mellitus, meaning “sugar runs through,” which is a very appropriate name for the disease that affects nearly every vital organ in the body.

The two types of diabetes are:

Type 1: (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes), accounts for 5 to 10% of those who have diabetes. In Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys the cells that release insulin, eventually eliminating insulin production from the body. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb sugar (glucose), which they need to produce energy.

Type 2: (formerly called adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) can develop at any age. It most commonly occurs in adulthood, although more children are developing the disease. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95% of people who have diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin produced by the body. As type 2 diabetes gets worse, the pancreas may make less and less insulin. This is called insulin deficiency, and some patients then require insulin.

Both types of diabetes greatly increase a person’s risk for a range of serious complications. Although monitoring and managing the disease can prevent complications, diabetes remains the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure. It also continues to be a critical risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and foot or leg amputations.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. It may run in families and thus be genetic. However, Type 2 diabetes may be prevented or effectively treated by appropriate diet and body weight.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

The A1C test is a common blood test used to diagnose Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and then to gauge how well the patient is being managed. Specifically, the A1C test measures what percentage of your hemoglobin — a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen — is coated with sugar (glycated). The higher the A1C level, the poorer the blood sugar control and the higher your risk of diabetes complications.

It is essential that a person reduce the disease’s impact by always being vigilant to symptoms as well as being committed to a sensible diet. This is a full time job.

Although it is not a guarantee, the best way to prevent or mitigate complications of diabetes is to keep your body mass index (BMI) under 25 (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm), and exercise regularly.

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