Diabetes, often referred to by doctors as diabetes mellitus, describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the person has high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body's cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both. Patients with high blood sugar will typically experience polyuria (frequent urination), they will become increasingly thirsty (polydipsia) and hungry (polyphagia).
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that plays a very important role in our bodies. After we eat, we begin to digest carbohydrates, breaking them down into glucose.
The insulin released by the pancreas moves glucose into our cells, where it is used as fuel for energy. It may help to understand that insulin is often described as a key, which open the doors to the cells, allowing glucose to enter.
There are mainly three types of diabetes.
What is prediabetes?
- Diabetes Type 1
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells, meaning no insulin is produced. This causes glucose to quickly rise in the blood.
Nobody knows exactly why this happens, but science tells us it’s got nothing to do with diet or lifestyle.
About 10 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 1.
- Diabetes Type 2
In Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly, meaning glucose builds up in the blood.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Up to 58 per cent of Type 2 diabetes cases can be delayed or prevented through a healthy lifestyle.
About 90 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 2
- Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women, usually during the second or third trimester. Women with gestational diabetes don’t have diabetes before their pregnancy, and after giving birth it usually goes away. In some women diabetes may be diagnosed in the first trimester, and in these cases the condition most likely existed before pregnancy.
The vast majority of patients with type 2 diabetes initially had prediabetes. Their blood glucose levels where higher than normal, but not high enough to merit a diabetes diagnosis. The cells in the body are becoming resistant to insulin.
Studies have indicated that even at the prediabetes stage, some damage to the circulatory system and the heart may already have occurred.
Diabetes is a metabolism disorder
Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is classed as a metabolism disorder. Metabolism refers to the way our bodies use digested food for energy and growth. Most of what we eat is broken down into glucose. Glucose is a form of sugar in the blood - it is the principal source of fuel for our bodies.
When our food is digested, the glucose makes its way into our bloodstream. Our cells use the glucose for energy and growth. However, glucose cannot enter our cells without insulin being present - insulin makes it possible for our cells to take in the glucose.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. After eating, the pancreas automatically releases an adequate quantity of insulin to move the glucose present in our blood into the cells, as soon as glucose enters the cells blood-glucose levels drop.
A person with diabetes has a condition in which the quantity of glucose in the blood is too elevated (hyperglycemia). This is because the body either does not produce enough insulin, produces no insulin, or has cells that do not respond properly to the insulin the pancreas produces. This results in too much glucose building up in the blood. This excess blood glucose eventually passes out of the body in urine. So, even though the blood has plenty of glucose, the cells are not getting it for their essential energy and growth requirements.
Controlling diabetes - treatment is effective and important
All types of diabetes are treatable. Diabetes type 1 lasts a lifetime, there is no known cure. Type 2 usually lasts a lifetime, however, some people have managed to get rid of their symptoms without medication, through a combination of exercise, diet and body weight control.
Patients with type 1 are treated with regular insulin injections, as well as a special diet and exercise.
Patients with Type 2 diabetes are usually treated with tablets, exercise and a special diet, but sometimes insulin injections are also required.
If diabetes is not adequately controlled the patient has a significantly higher risk of developing complications.