Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the islet cells of the pancreas needed to convert sugar and starches into energy needed for daily life. Normally glucose enters your cells because of the action of insulin. It acts as a key and assists glucose transport from the blood to the cell. In people with diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not properly respond to the insulin, therefore, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream and eventually is excreted in the urine.
An estimated 20 million, or approximately 7 percent, of Americans have diabetes, and many more are at risk for developing the disease. With the rate of diabetes steadily increasing, the need for an aggressive search for better treatments and a cure is glaringly apparent.
In the past, this was known as juvenile-onset diabetes, or insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune system slowly destroys the cells in the pancreas (islet cells) that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that works to allow glucose access to the body's cells, thereby providing fuel for metabolic processes. The pancreas of a patient with type 1 diabetes produces little or no insulin and, therefore, such patients must take insulin injections to survive. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but most commonly develops in children between the ages of 5 and 15.
Formerly referred to as adult-onset diabetes, or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, type 2 diabetes is usually found in individuals who are more than 40 years old and overweight. In type 2 diabetes, insulin does not work effectively. Therefore, the insulin produced by the pancreas is not sufficient to keep the blood sugar level normal and the body's cells are unable to properly use glucose.
This form of diabetes is inherited, and can vary in severity. Most often, MODY resembles a very mild version of type 1 diabetes, with continued partial insulin production and normal insulin sensitivity. A person with MODY is typically in their teens or 20s and thin.
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy in women who have never been diagnosed with diabetes. It occurs when the body is unable to properly use and produce enough insulin during pregnancy and as a result glucose levels rise. Symptoms usually occur during the second or third trimester when the baby’s body has developed and is growing.
Diabetes may also be caused as a result of organ transplants, certain types of cancers, as well as a host of medications (for cancer and other diseases).
If you are concerned about being at risk for diabetes, make sure your physician has done a thorough health history and is aware of all the medications you are taking.
Unfortunately, the effects of uncontrolled diabetes can be harmful. Complications stem from damage to blood vessels and nerves throughout the body. As a result, diabetic eye disease, kidney disease, vascular disease and nerve damage can occur.
Click here to find out if you are at risk for diabetes.
For more about diabetes education, visit the American Diabetes Association and/or the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Web sites, or contact City of Hope’s Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism at 626-256-HOPE (4673), ext. 62251.