Diabetes is a condition wherein there is impairment in the production of insulin in the body. It remains to be one of the leading causes of death in the world, and accounts for about 380 million individuals worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. This figure, however, is feared to double by the year 2030.
Diabetes has become more prevalent than diseases like HIV and breast cancer combined. According to estimates, there is at least 1 diabetic individual for every 3 Americans.
The emergence of a large number of fast food restaurants is considered as one of the major factors to the increasing number of individuals with diabetes. Due to frequent consumption of these poor nutritious foods, more children have become obese.
Apart from consuming unhealthy food is them being inactive, especially due to the popularity of video game consoles. With this kind of lifestyle, children as young as 12 years old can develop Type II Diabetes.
Understanding the Role of Insulin
Insulin is the hormone that processes sugar from the food that you eat, and converts it into energy. Secreted by the pancreas, insulin has the ability to control the blood glucose level in the body.
An increase in blood glucose level is called hyperglycemia, while low blood glucose level is referred to as hypoglycemia.
Reasons for having hypoglycemia include:
- Missed meals
- Too much intake of diabetic medication
- Insufficient carbohydrate intake
- Alcohol intake without food
Hyperglycemia is likely to happen when an individual eats more than the necessary amount of food. When this is left untreated, a dangerous condition called diabetic ketoacidosis may develop. This may cause the individual to become thirstier and have the tendency to urinate more frequently, which can lead to dehydration. It can also lead to drowsiness, vomiting, and unconsciousness.
Our body needs energy, and we get this primarily from the food that we eat. After consuming food, the blood glucose level increases, which signals the cells in the pancreas to release insulin. The sugar molecules attach themselves to the insulin into the bloodstream, where they are processed and converted to energy. A decrease or increase from the normal glucose level may lead to long-term complications.
Sugar is a form of carbohydrate, with sucrose being the most common kind of sugar found in most food products. Other sources of carbohydrates in a regular human diet include rice, bread, starchy food, potatoes, dairy foods, and sweets.
Statistics on Diabetes
Among all the states in the United States, Mississippi has the highest rate of diabetes, accounting for at least 14.7% of its population. For the past 20 years, diabetes rates have almost doubled, affecting the whole country.
According to a survey conducted in 2015, there are about 28 million people in the U.S. who have diabetes. What’s worse is that a large number of people are still unaware that they have developed the disease.
- Each year, at least 1.4 million new cases of diabetes are reported. Majority of these individuals are aged 20 years old and older.
- Diabetes accounted for more than 200,000 deaths in 2010.
- American Indians have the highest rate of diabetes among other ethnicities.
- Hypoglycemia was the most common listed diagnosis for more than 280,000 emergency department visits in 2011.
- For individuals aged 18 years old and older diagnosed with diabetes, about 71% of them have high blood pressure.
- In 2013 alone, the total cost for diagnosed diabetes accounted to $245 billion. Majority of the cost was for diabetes treatment.
Types of Diabetes
Diabetes varies with age, ethnicity, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. Here are the two main types of diabetes:
Type I Diabetes
This refers to the condition wherein the body is not capable of producing enough insulin to aid in the normal functioning of the body. Insulin is commonly referred to as the key to unlocking the door of the cells. When this happens, insulin can get into the cells to generate energy.
In Type I diabetes, the body is unable to produce insulin, leading the sugar to build up in the blood. More often than not, the cause of Type I diabetes is a virus or other infection.
Treating this type of diabetes will need regular insulin injections. It will also be beneficial to incorporate a health program that includes eating a healthy diet and having regular exercises.
Type II Diabetes
This condition is characterized by insulin resistance, and is also called non-insulin dependent diabetes. This is the most common type of diabetes among people 35 years old and older.
The difference between Type I and Type II diabetes is the insulin production. In Type II Diabetes, the body is able to produce insulin, but it may not be enough. Therefore, there is a need to treat it with medication, and involve the patient into exercise and proper diet.
Moreover, this type of diabetes is common among obese individuals who are living sedentary lives or do not engage in physical activity.
The most common medications used to treat hyperglycemia are:
Effects of Diabetes
The sad truth about diabetes is that it cannot be completely treated. Once diagnosed, the individual will need to deal with the condition all throughout his life. If proper care is not given, it will lead to a myriad of complications which may cause death.
Choice of food has a great impact on the health of the diabetic. People diagnosed with diabetes should stay away from eating food with high caloric content. If possible, they should avoid drinking alcohol in large amounts.
Smoking should also be avoided. No matter how much weight you have lost due to exercise and healthy eating, smoking can weaken your immune system, affecting your heart rate and blood pressure. Smoking can lead to building up of plaque in blood vessels, which prevents blood from passing through normally. This may lead to a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
Having an uncontrolled blood glucose level can affect your eyesight. It may lead to various eye conditions such as:
- Macular edema
It is recommended that diabetic patients should also see an ophthalmologist once they have noticed flashes of light, a floater, or part of their vision missing. A regular eye check-up is advised.
People with diabetes have a high risk of developing kidney conditions (nephropathy) due to the narrowing of the blood vessels in the kidney. It is therefore advised that a kidney screening should be done to ensure the health of both kidneys. Any sign of microalbumin in the urine may denote kidney damage.
Nerve damage is also likely to happen to individuals with diabetes. This is most commonly seen on the feet where the blood supply leading to the lower limbs is reduced. The nerve damage may cause clawed feet (peripheral neuropathy).
Diabetes may cause narrowing of their blood vessels that affect the normal blood flow in the body. S a result, the damaged blood vessels and nerves can also cause drying of the skin, especially on the feet.
The damaged small blood vessels and nerves can also cause weakening of the teeth and an increased risk of gum infection.
Erectile dysfunction is also likely to happen to a male diabetic due to the damaged blood vessels and nerves. As with women, there is not enough research to prove that their sexual function is affected since there are other predisposing factors that lead to decreased libido such as menopause.
Consequently, continuous consumption of food high in cholesterol may cause blockage of the blood vessels and lead to high blood pressure.
Causes of Diabetes
Diabetes is likely to happen in several conditions. This includes pregnancy (gestational diabetes), primarily due to an increased appetite caused by constant cravings for certain foods.
Other potential conditions that can cause diabetes are:
- Cushing’s syndrome, due to an increased abundance of cortisol
- Glucagonoma, caused by an imbalance of glucagon and insulin production
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome, mainly due to obesity
- Steroid-induced diabetes, developed due to prolonged glucocorticoid therapy
Symptoms of Undiagnosed Diabetes
There are some individuals who are unaware that they have developed diabetes. Symptoms include:
- Polydipsia (increased thirst)
- Polyphagia (increased hunger)
- Polyuria (frequent urination)
- Blurred vision
- Slow healing of wounds
- Extreme tiredness
- Unexplained weight loss
Diabetes Treatment and Maintenance
Injecting insulin may be necessary to help the individuals have enough insulin to keep up with the normal functioning of the body. Aside from this, diabetics need to follow a healthy diet and engage in exercise. In other words, there is a need to have a complete lifestyle change in order to achieve a healthier way of living.
There should be enough amount of carbohydrates as it is important in controlling the blood glucose level in the body. The diet should include rice, grainy bread, pasta, and potatoes.
A low-fat diet is beneficial. Instead of eating pork and beef, substitute it with chicken, turkey, and fish.
At least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day may benefit the diabetic. Replace sweet snacks and chips with these healthier food items.
Aim to consume food with low salt. Too much salt in the diet can increase blood pressure, which may lead to heart attack or stroke.
Engaging in sports can be very helpful, but not to the extent of extremely tiring yourself. Walking is the simplest form of exercise that can provide great health benefits. Physical activity can help reduce weight, strengthen bones and muscles, and provide a better perspective instead of being worried about the health condition.
Diabetics need to constantly monitor blood glucose level. They may purchase a blood glucose monitor or visit the doctor to have their blood glucose level checked. It is recommended to visit the doctor every three months. During the regular check-up, blood pressure and cholesterol will probably be monitored as well.
The normal blood glucose level before meals for Type I and Type II diabetes is 4-6 mmol/L while the blood glucose level 2 hours after meals should be below 10 mmol/L.
To control Type I Diabetes, patients may need an insulin injection. Controlling Type II diabetes would need following a healthy meal plan and become physically active. Medication may also be prescribed to help in controlling blood glucose level.
Caring for Diabetics
Knowing that there are so many precautionary measures to be taken in order to maintain a healthy life, it can cause some form of exhaustion or distress to a diabetic patient. Having to go through all these can make a diabetic person succumb to depression or anxiety. Accordingly, when this happens, it is recommended to seek a psychiatrist to help in developing a mental health plan.
Family members should all help in making everyone’s life comfortable and become supportive to family members who may be suffering from certain diseases or illnesses. Diabetic care includes providing the right kind and amount of food to the individual. It is recommended that frequent, small meals be taken all throughout the day.
- Always check blood glucose level at regular intervals.
- Ensure that the medications are taken on time.
- Require drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day.
- If the individual is feeling sick and does not have much appetite, encourage taking carbohydrate-containing drinks or sugary drinks like cola.
- The skin of the diabetic can turn dry. Moisturize using lotions to avoid having cracks.
- There are a number of doctors that diabetics need to visit. Encourage to visit his endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, nephrologist, dentist, and dermatologist. Nevertheless, all these doctors can help in keeping the individual to live a normal life if regular check-ups are taken.
It’s not easy living with diabetes, much more taking care of someone with this debilitating condition. However, with patience and genuine care, you can help ease the diabetic’s condition and allow him / her to have better management and control.