An Overview of Diabetes

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Affecting more than 422 million people worldwide and killing over 1.5 million people yearly, diabetes is a worldwide epidemic. It is the sixth leading cause of death, with 80% of the deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries, and the prevalence of diabetes has been increasing at alarming rates. In the United States alone, 37.3 million adults have diabetes – nearly 11.3% of the entire population – and that’s not including the 96 million adults who are prediabetic.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that prevents the body from producing insulin or utilizing insulin, causing high blood sugar levels for prolonged periods of time. Without proper care and medication, diabetes can lead to various complications like heart disease, vision loss, kidney disease, amputation, stroke, hearing impairment, and more.

There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is genetic and occurs when the pancreas produces little to no insulin because the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells that are in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the beta cells cannot produce enough insulin or when the body becomes resistant to it entirely.

Causes of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is unpreventable, as it’s genetic, and the exact causes of it are unknown. More research is currently being conducted, but researchers suspect that variations in HLA genes can increase the risk of type 1 diabetes. The HLA complex is responsible for distinguishing external invaders from the body’s own cells. So when the HLA complex is mutated, it could potentially cause the body to recognize its own insulin-producing beta cells as a foreign pathogen and make the antibodies destroy the needed beta cells. However, only 5% of those with the mutated HLA variations develop type 1 diabetes, and the variations only account for 40% of type 1 diabetes cases. Some suspect that other environmental factors may also be at play for the development of type 1 diabetes.

The causes of type 2 diabetes are also unclear, though researchers suspect that the condition is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. DNA variations, obesity, and prediabetes are some factors that potentially lead to type 2 diabetes. While there is a genetic component to type 2 diabetes, it is also reliant on lifestyle factors. Type 2 diabetes is preventable through weight loss, exercise, and eating healthily. Insulin regulates blood sugar, and when there are consistently high levels, eventually the body develops insulin resistance, resulting in type 2 diabetes. If one is prediabetic, medications like metformin can help lower the risk of developing diabetes.

Symptoms of Diabetes

The symptoms and severity of symptoms can vary depending on the type of diabetes and one’s current blood sugar levels. Some symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased infections
  • Weakness
  • Blurry vision
  • Ketones in urine
  • Feeling irritable

Current Treatments of Diabetes

Despite the widespread epidemic of diabetes, there is still no cure for it. There are various methods of managing diabetes and ensuring that sugar levels do not get too high or low.

Type 1 diabetics must artificially inject it into their body since they can’t produce it themselves. Some common methods include syringes, insulin pens, and pumps. For type 2 diabetes, patients need to take oral medications like metformin which helps beta cells utilize insulin better. Alternatively, they could inject insulin as well.

There are multiple types of insulin, all with different onsets and durations. For example, rapid-acting insulin takes 15 minutes to work, peaks in an hour, and lasts for 2-4 hours, while long-acting insulin takes 6 hours to work, never peaks, and lasts 36 hours.

The vessels of insulin all have their individual pros and cons. With needles and syringes, repeated injection at the same site could potentially result in hardening tissue. The hardened tissue makes it more difficult to take injections. It is an issue because there are certain sites on the body that are more effective than others. For example, insulin works the quickest in your stomach and takes longer to work in the thigh and upper arm. With pens, they’re considerably easier to use compared to needles and syringes. Patients are able to utilize a memory function on such pens where the pen can automatically calculate the recommended insulin dosage. However, they are also more costly.

– Angela Chan