What is diabetes?
Diabetes presents with raised blood sugar concentrations. There are 2 distinct diseases:
Type I diabetes:
This type of diabetes, also called ‘juvenile’ diabetes, affects children and young adults. It is caused by an inability of the body to make insulin. Treatment is with Insulin injections and a healthy diet.
Type II diabetes:
This usually presents in people over the age of 40. Due to many factors the insulin produced by the body is not used properly and/or is not made in sufficient quantities. It is also called Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes and is more common in overweight people. Initially the main aim is to lose weight which can correct most of the symptoms. Later tablets and even Insulin may need to be added to a diabetic diet.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
Both types of diabetes present with thirst and passing large quantities of urine, fatigue and weight loss. In type I diabetes the onset of these symptoms can be very rapid. Usually these symptoms can develop gradually over months and even years.
The diagnosis is confirmed with a blood test that reveals raised sugar levels, but urine tests can also be helpful.
What are the possible complications of diabetes?
The immediate danger of mainly type I diabetes is from very high blood sugar levels that can develop quite quickly. They can cause severe dehydration and drowsiness and can be life-threatening.
In type II diabetes raised blood sugar levels usually develop only slowly but if left untreated can also result in a serious acute illness.
Long term complication:
In both types of diabetes the permanently raised blood sugar levels will gradually damage small and large blood vessels over many years. This can result in:
- Heart disease e.g. heart attacks
- Kidney damage
- Eye problems leading to blindness
- Nerve damage resulting in numbness, paralysis or pain
- Foot problems
Good control of blood sugar with diet and medication can help to prevent some of these problems. It is also very important to check for other problems in particular for high blood pressure. Dealing with this can reduce these problems significantly.
How is diabetes treated?
Type I diabetes is always treated with Insulin and a healthy diet.
For many overweight people with type II diabetes the emphasis is on losing weight. This can initially improve or even normalise the blood sugar levels. Later, treatment with tablets that improve the way Insulin works will be used and sometimes tablets that will stimulate your body to produce more Insulin. Over time type II diabetes will gradually get worse and treatment will need to be adjusted. Eventually many people will need treatment with Insulin injections.
A suitable diabetic diet should always be at the heart of any treatment.
What are the goals of treatment?
These treatment goals apply to both forms of diabetes:
- To normalise blood sugar levels with diet or medication. This will improve wellbeing considerably and will also educe the risk of late complications.
- To reduce other risk factors e.g. high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol levels in order to prevent late complications.
- To detect the onset of complications as early as possible. Treatment for complications can stop them from getting worse.
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