According to the American Diabetes Association, there are many often held myths about diabetes. That makes knowing the facts about diabetes very important. Whether you are a person newly diagnosed with diabetes or knows someone who has diabetes, it’s important to dispel many of the myths and have a good, firm understanding of diabetes. Christopher Hudak, M.D., an endocrinologist at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth answers some frequently asked questions.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition where there is too much glucose circulating in the bloodstream. It is the result of an overall lack of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas, an organ behind the stomach. Insulin helps transport the glucose from the bloodstream into each cell, to allow it to make energy. All the cells in our body require glucose for energy, and therefore require insulin. When there is too much glucose that is left out in the bloodstream, and not getting into the cells as it should, this is where long term damage to the cells may occur.
What causes Type 2 diabetes?
Simply put, there are 2 types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas makes very little insulin to no insulin at all. This is typically caused by an autoimmune attack to the pancreatic cells, and may occur at any age.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It starts with insulin resistance, where each cell does not receive the insulin well enough for the glucose to be transported into the cell.
For example, instead of the cell needing one molecule of insulin to open up and receive the glucose, it may require 4 to 5 times as much insulin to achieve this. Early on in the course of the condition, the pancreas is able to keep up with as much insulin production and secretion as is needed. Over time, the pancreatic beta cells tire out, insulin production dwindles down, thus causing glucose to accumulate in the blood stream.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
When glucose in the blood stream is high enough, the symptoms include increased thirst, increased urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, fatigue, slow healing of wounds or sores. On the other hand, there may not be any symptoms at all, especially when the glucose rises slowly over a period of time. Diabetes is now often diagnosed through screening lab tests by your doctor.
Who is at risk for Type 2 diabetes?
People who have a family history of diabetes, who are overweight, or have a history of diabetes during pregnancy are at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include age greater than 45 years, HDL cholesterol under 35, high triglyceride levels over 250, high blood pressure, or low-activity level.
How is diabetes treated?
Dietary modifications and lifestyle changes are the most important and the first line of treatment for patients living with diabetes.
Controlling one’s weight by cutting down on portions, eating a balanced, healthy meal and regular exercise can reduce insulin resistance. These strategies help the individual cells receive the insulin better, decreasing the absolute need for insulin, and therefore reducing the demand on the pancreas.
When diet and lifestyle modifications are not enough, there are multiple medications that may be used. These include oral agents, injectable gut hormones, and insulin—all of these may be used alone or in combination to exert different effects on the different organs, to help control glucose.