The late Mary Tyler Moore suffered from insulin dependent diabetes mellitus for most of her adult life. She left behind a legacy of advocacy for research to find a cure for this all too prevalent disease.
Diabetes mellitus – commonly known as sugar diabetes – results from the inability of the body to produce enough insulin to use up all of the sugar that is contained in our food. Everything we eat is eventually broken down into sugars (carbohydrates) that are used to fuel the activities of our body.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced in specialized cells within the pancreas gland in the upper abdomen. It is essential for allowing the sugar (glucose), required as an energy source, to pass into the cells comprising our various organs. Without enough insulin, the glucose level in the blood stream increases and we begin to spill the excess sugar into our urine.
Diabetes is a disease affecting small blood vessels in the body. The most serious issues arising from this disease occur in major organ systems and may result in kidney failure (possibly necessitating dialysis), heart disease, visual disturbances up to complete loss of vision, numbness of extremities, poor healing skin ulcerations, and loss of adequate blood flow to the limbs, which can result in amputations.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Type I: Insulin dependent diabetes (little or no insulin produced by the pancreas) requires the daily injection of insulin to replace the insulin that is no longer being produced in sufficient quantities to control blood sugar levels.
Type II: Non-insulin dependent diabetes (some, but not enough insulin being produced) can be treated with dietary restrictions, oral hypoglycemia medications that lower blood sugar, and insulin supplementation as needed.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, is usually transient, and resolves after the pregnancy ends
The most common symptoms of diabetes are frequent urination and increased thirst and hunger. Other symptoms include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, slow healing wounds, numbness of extremities, irritability, and vaginal yeast infections.
Diabetes is a disease that usually progresses gradually, but if not promptly recognized and adequately treated, it can lead to severe, even life-threatening consequences.
Diabetes has no specific causes, but some contributing factors are obesity, lack of exercise, over-consumption of sugars in the diet, advancing age, pregnancy and heredity. Diabetes is a disease that can be passed from generation to generation within families.
There is substantial research being done in gene therapy that may address the passing of diabetes to future generations. Research is also being done with some success in such areas as stem cell replacement for the specialized cells in the pancreas.
Pancreas transplant initiatives have not had a great deal of success due to the inherent problems with a gland designed to aid in digestion.
The treatment of diabetes is determined by the severity of the disease and the individual response to the treatments recommended. In very mild cases, it may be as simple as carefully watching the diet to avoid foods that could cause blood sugar to rise too high. When it is more advanced, oral medications, known as hypoglycemic agents, augment your dietary considerations.
Dr. Alan Sisson is a physician for U.S. HealthWorks in Illinois.
Graphics courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.