When Does Diabetes Occur?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas (an organ behind your stomach). Normally, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin that helps your body store and use the sugar and fat from the food you eat.

Diabetes occurs:

When the pancreas does not produce any insulin, or The pancreas produces very little insulin, or When the body does not respond appropriately to insulin, a condition called “insulin resistance.”

Diabetes is a lifelong disease. Approximately 18.2 million Americans have the disease, that’s 6.3% of the U.S. population. While a third are aware that they have it, another one third or 5.2 million are unaware that they have diabetes. An additional 20 million people have pre-diabetes. As yet, there is no cure. People with diabetes need to manage their disease to stay healthy.

The Role of Insulin in Diabetes

To understand why insulin is important, it helps to know more about how the body uses food for energy. Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, these cells need food in a very simple form. When you eat or drink, much of your food is broken down into a simple sugar called “glucose.” Then, glucose is transported through the bloodstream to the cells of your body where it can be used to provide some of the energy your body needs for daily activities.

The amount of glucose in your bloodstream is tightly regulated by a hormone called “insulin.” Insulin is always being released in small amounts by the pancreas. When the amount of glucose in your blood rises to a certain level, your pancreas releases more insulin to push more glucose into the cells. This causes the glucose levels in your blood (blood glucose levels) to drop.

To keep your blood glucose levels from getting to low (hypoglycemia or low blood sugar), your body signals you to eat to increase glucose levels again and releases some glucose from the stores kept in the liver.

People with diabetes either don’t make insulin or their body’s cells no longer are able to recognize insulin, leading to high blood sugars. By definition, diabetes is having a blood glucose level of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or more after an overnight fast (not eating anything).

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, occurs because the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (called beta cells) are destroyed by the body’s own immune system.

Normally, the body’s immune system fights off foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria. But for unknown reasons, in people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks various cells in the body. This results in a complete deficiency of the insulin hormone.

There are other people who develop a condition similar to type 1 diabetes – characterized by destruction of the beta cells. However, if the destruction didn’t occur because of autoimmune disease, it’s not classified as type 1 diabetes, but as secondary diabetes, even though it’s often managed similarly to type 1 diabetes. This includes diabetes caused by cystic fibrosis and surgery on the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, often called non-insulin dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 18.2 million Americans. Although the complications of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are similar, the diseases arise from different circumstances.

In type 1 diabetes, a person has high blood glucose because an autoimmune process that has destroyed beta cells in the pancreas that produces insulin, causing a lack of insulin.

The cause of type 2 diabetes is more complex. In type 2 diabetes, high blood glucose arises despite an initial abundance of the hormone insulin. These individuals have high levels of insulin yet their cells are resistance to the actions of the hormone. With progression of the disease they can develop a deficiency of insulin similar to people with type 1 diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone that is needed to help the body get certain nutrients — especially a sugar called glucose — into the glucose- utilizing cells of the body’s tissues where it is used for energy. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, major problems can occur:

The body’s cells starve.

A high sugar in the blood causes the kidneys to urine excess amounts of both sugars and proteins. Because the removal of glucose and protein also remove water, you can become dehydrated.

Over time, the high glucose levels in the blood may damage the nerves and small blood vessels of the eyes, kidneys, and heart and predispose a person to atherosclerosis (hardening) of the large arteries that can cause heart attack and stroke.

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