Derived from Greek and Latin terms, Diabetes Mellitus means ‘the passing through of honey’ and refers to the body’s inability to process sugar into energy. This malfunction is related to a hormone called insulin that is produced in the pancreas. Every time we eat any form of carbohydrate (rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles, sugar), the body converts them into a simple form of simple sugar called glucose. When the pancreas detects this increase of glucose in the bloodstream, it releases insulin.
The insulin is carried in the bloodstream and taken up by the insulin receptors found on the surface of every cell. Once the insulin binds with these insulin receptors, it tells the cell to start absorbing the glucose in the bloodstream and turn it into fuel. Diabetes occurs when there is a problem with this process of turning glucose into energy.
Type I diabetes is caused by the lack of a hormone called insulin where the body cannot produce insulin at all. People with Type I diabetes require daily insulin injections to help the body use and store glucose.
Type II diabetes is where the pancreas can produce insulin, but the cells receptors cannot bind with well with it. Without the insulin telling the cells to start using glucose, the cells starve because they are unable to access the glucose for fuel and glucose builds up in the bloodstream.
Diabetes symptoms and diagnosis
Considering that the body is highly dependent on glucose for fuel, it’s no wonder that the inability to obtain energy from the food we eat can make us feel unwell. Some common signs of diabetes include:
If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, it is best to seek medical advice. A definitive diabetes diagnosis is commonly made with a blood test. This can be either with a finger stick blood glucose test or a fasting plasma glucose test.
A finger stick blood glucose test is a less accurate, but speedy test that involves taking a small drop of blood (usually from the finger) and assessing the blood sugar level. This test is usually used to as a preliminary test for diabetes or for diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels at home.
With a fasting plasma glucose blood test, you will be required to abstain from food or drink for at least 8-hours (plain water is usually allowed) and have your blood drawn first thing in the morning. This reading offers a good baseline result of the amount of glucose in your system. A reading of over 126 mg/dL usually indicates diabetes.
It’s a good idea to screen for diabetes once every few years – more often if you have a family history of diabetes or are obese.
One reason that early screening and early treatment is so crucial in diabetes is that, left unchecked, the ‘sugar overdose’ in the blood (hyperglycaemia), can badly affected organs and tissues over time and result in life-threatening and debilitating conditions.
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness due to diabetic retinopathy and is the also one of the most common reasons for kidney failure. Diabetes also affects the nerves and the body’s ability to heal itself. Diabetic-related neuropathy (disease of the nerve) causes foot wounds and ulcers, that in severe cases, result in the need for amputation. Diabetes even increases the risk of atherosclerosis or the hardening and narrowing of the arteries – the key cause of heart attack, stroke and poor circulation in the legs and arms. Other conditions that can arise from uncontrolled hyperglycaemia are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Other medical issues that can arise in diabetes include a weakened immune system that increases the risk of infection, fluctuations in blood sugar level and gum disease.
This highlights the importance of understanding your risk and reducing them. For diabetics, the most important thing to note is that life with diabetes can be a fulfilling one as long as you make some simple lifestyle changes and comply with your doctor’s medical advice.
While there is no cure, diabetes can be managed. Diabetes management involves controlling your blood sugar with a combination of:
These all come together to maintain one’s optimal blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of complications so that a diabetic can lead a normal, healthy and fulfilling life.