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Medical alert: What do you know about diabetes mellitus?

Emeh Joy
By Emeh Joy

Basic Medical Scientist, Freelance Health Writer, Lifestyle Blogger and Business Enthusiast

Diabetes, a metabolic condition caused by abnormally high blood sugar level

Diabetes mellitus is commonly called ''diabetes'. However, we should know that there is diabetes insipidus, and there is also diabetes mellitus. Both of them are different medical conditions.

Diabetes insipidus is a disorder of salt and water metabolism which occurs when the body system cannot regulate how it balances fluid in the body. The result of this is that you feel very thirsty; you also urinate heavily and frequently.

Again, it is quite different from the common diabetes mellitus.

What is diabetes mellitus?

People most times are misinformed about health conditions such as diabetes mellitus. Most people believe an excessive intake of sugary foods causes diabetes. But is that the primary cause of diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus (commonly called diabetes) is a metabolic disease condition in which there is an increase in blood sugar level. This means diabetes is a health condition marked by an abnormal level of sugar in the blood.

What causes diabetes mellitus?

This condition is caused by impairment in the production or utilization of a specific hormone that aids the body to utilize glucose. The name of this hormone is insulin.

Remember, carbohydrates undergo digestion and are broken down into simple sugar (glucose). In a normal circumstance, insulin is secreted in an adequate amount by the pancreas (an organ found in the abdominal region). The insulin acts to move the glucose into your body cells, where they can be stored or used to generate energy.

In the absence of insulin, your body cells can't utilize glucose. And since they cannot be moved into the cells, they accumulate in the blood, thus, causing diabetes.

While diabetes is caused by inadequate production or under-utilization of the insulin hormone, you should do away with sugary foods and candies such as these, which can agggravate diabetes.

Now, with diabetes, the pancreas cells, which are meant to produce insulin, do not produce them as they ought to (type 1 diabetes), or the insulin hormone is produced, but somehow, your body is resistant to it (type 2 diabetes). This means that even when insulin is secreted, the body still can't use it, which causes sugar to build up in the blood.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes has increased from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. Also, its prevalence is higher in middle and low-income countries. About 1.6 million deaths were attributed to this condition in 2016.

Types of diabetes

There are two most common types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes)

This is an autoimmune disease. In this case, for some unknown reasons, the immune system attacks and destroys the pancreatic cells responsible for producing insulin.

The result is that the pancreas produces little or no insulin. It is also called juvenile-onset diabetes, as it often begins in childhood. About 10% of people with diabetes have this type of diabetes.

The cause of autoimmunity here is not precisely known; however, it is suggested that genes, pancreas, and virus diseases may play a role in it.

Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent diabetes)

This type of diabetes occurs when your body becomes resistant to insulin. Glucose can't be moved into the cells, and glucose builds up in the blood. It is also called adult-onset diabetes, even though in recent years, children and teens now get diagnosed with this type of diabetes mellitus.

About 90% of people with diabetes have this type of diabetes. The pancreas usually does secret some insulin, but it is either insufficient, or the body doesn't use it as it should.

It is caused by some factors such as gene, lifestyle and being overweight. Even though it is milder than type 1, it does cause significant health complications like kidney failure and damage of nerves.

Other types of diabetes:

  • Gestational diabetes- This is abnormally high blood sugar during pregnancy. The placenta sometimes produces insulin-blocking hormones; thus, predisposing a pregnant woman to this medical condition. Women who are overweight during pregnancy have higher chances of developing this type of diabetes.
  • Prediabetes- This is when the blood sugar level is higher than normal. However, it is not high enough for it to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes in this case.

It is vital that you know the type of diabetes you or your loved one has been diagnosed with, which will help in treatment and management.

Symptoms of diabetes

Each type of diabetes has specific symptoms that are unique to it. However, there are still overlapping symptoms that typically present with any diabetes. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Increased hunger
  • Intense thirst
  • Changes in weight
  • Extreme fatigue and tiredness
  • Frequent urination
  • Sores that heal slowly or don't heal at all
  • Blurry vision

Do men and women exhibit the same symptoms?

You may be wondering if the symptoms of diabetes are the same for both genders. Well, both men and women tend to exhibit similar symptoms of diabetes; however, each gender might exhibit one or more unique symptoms.

For instance, men are likely to experience decreased sexual desire, weak muscle strength and erectile dysfunction. At the same time, women could show symptoms of yeast infection, urinary tract infections and itchy, dry skin.

Complications of diabetes mellitus

Maybe someday, we will have a lengthy discourse on the risk factors of diabetes and its complications.

The fact is that diabetes is not an acute disease; it is a chronic health condition. This means it doesn't kill immediately. It develops over time, causing damages to several organs and tissues of the body, especially when it is not managed.

The higher the blood glucose level, and the longer you live with the condition, the higher your risk of developing these complications.

  • Neuropathy (damage to peripheral nerve cells)
  • Nephropathy (damage to the kidneys)
  • Heart attack and heart diseases
  • Stroke
  • Foot damages, infections and sores on the limbs that won't heal
  • Retinopathy and loss of vision
  • Hearing loss, depression
  • Skin conditions like a fungal and bacterial infection
  • dementia
  • depression

Foot complications caused by diabetes

In the case of gestational diabetes, it can lead to complications such as:

  • Premature birth
  • Stillbirth
  • The high weight of the baby at birth
  • Jaundice
  • Low blood sugar
  • Increased risk of the baby being predisposed to diabetes type 2 later in life

Can diabetes mellitus be managed?

Diabetes mellitus diagnosis isn't a death sentence. Irrespective of the type or the cause, it can be managed.

However, it can be challenging considering that different things could cause your blood sugar level to fluctuate, such as dietary composition, lifestyle, menstrual cycle, stress, and medications. Treatment and management will also depend on the type of diabetes.

Here are things to do to help manage your health condition.

Make dietary changes

Eating healthy is crucial for a healthy level, whether you have diabetes or not. However, if you are diabetic, you have even more reason to check what you eat as diabetes is a metabolic disease. Food affects your blood sugar level, and you should learn how.

You should know the type of food to eat, the right combinations, and the quantity to eat.

Eat healthy food

  • You should avoid sugary and sweetened foods as they tend to be high in calories and don't offer much nutrition anyways. Since they can cause a spike in blood sugar level, they should be avoided.
  • Make your meals well-balanced. Your meals should have much of vegetables, fruits and proteins. You don't have to totally cut off carbohydrates but go for the healthy ones that are unrefined, like whole grains.
  • Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about the best food choices for you. You should note that eating too little food in proportion to your diabetes medication can lead to abnormally low glucose level (hypoglycemia), which is another dangerous health condition.

Exercise

A sedentary lifestyle could predispose one to other health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases. Exercising helps keep you healthy and is an integral part of your diabetes management plan.

When you work out, your muscles utilize glucose better and also helps the body to make use of insulin more efficiently.

Avoid alcohol

It would be best if you were careful in choosing your drinks. Even if you have to take alcohol, it should be done moderately. Alcohol does worsen the complications of diabetes, such as retinopathy and neuropathy.

Also, if you are on insulin injection or other diabetes medications, you should ensure that you eat well before taking a drink.

Exercise is a great tool for diabetes management

Avoid stress

Life is full of stress; we know that, but you have to do your best to avoid putting the body in stressful situations.

When you are stressed, the body releases certain hormones, which could cause an increase in blood sugar level. Also, when you are always under stress, you may find it harder to follow your diabetes management routine duly.

Take your prescribed drugs and monitor your blood glucose level

Your doctor will definitely prescribe drugs to help manage your condition, depending on the type of diabetes. Endeavour to take the medications with the right dosage.

Also, you must check your blood glucose level regularly, just as it is with blood pressure. A sudden spike in the blood sugar level can cause severe damages to essential organs in the body.