Diabetes mellitus, usually simply called diabetes, is a disease the affects the way your body uses glucose (blood sugar). Glucose is an important energy source for your body, so when your body can’t use it the way it should, all kinds of bad things can happen. Diabetes can cause complications throughout the body, which can be serious. It is important to recognize the symptoms of diabetes to prevent serious consequences. We will be talking about diabetes over the next few weeks because it is a big subject to tackle. Today, let’s start with the basics.
What is glucose?
Glucose is a sugar that is a major source of energy for all the cells in your body including muscles, tissues, and your brain. After you eat, your blood sugar rises. The glucose in your blood moves into individual cells with the help of insulin. Some of the glucose is used for energy immediately and some can be stored for later. Most of the storage happens in the liver. When your blood sugar gets too low, the liver can release glucose back into the blood stream.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas. When your blood sugar rises after you eat, this triggers your pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin travels through the blood to the cells of your body. It attaches to your cells and acts as a sort of switch or key to open the channel that carries glucose into the cells. Once inside the cell, the glucose can be converted into energy or stored.
As the glucose enters your cells, the level of glucose in the blood gets lower. As the blood sugar level goes down, this signals your pancreas to stop releasing insulin.
If there is no insulin, or if your cells can’t utilize insulin correctly, glucose cannot enter the cells. This means your cells can’t use the glucose to make energy. It also means that glucose stays in your bloodstream, getting to even higher levels.
What are the different types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes – The pancreas does not make insulin as it should.
Type 2 diabetes – Your cells become resistant to the action of insulin. Your pancreas cannot make enough insulin to overcome the resistance.
Gestational diabetes – A type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy. It also causes your cells to become resistant to insulin. It can go away after the baby is born, although it may not always go away.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Symptoms caused by diabetes can be a result of blood sugar levels being high, or a result of the cells not having glucose to use for energy. Symptoms vary depending on which type of diabetes a person has and how high the blood sugar level gets. Some people with type 2 diabetes may have mild symptoms that develop slowly over time, so they don’t really notice the symptoms until they have had diabetes for a long time. People with type 1 diabetes have more severe symptoms that come on quickly.
Here are some of those symptoms:
Irritability or other mood changes
Slow healing of cuts or sores
Frequent infections, particularly skin infections and vaginal yeast infections
Weight loss – particularly common in type 1 diabetes
Over the next few weeks, we will get into more details about the different types of diabetes, the complications that diabetes can cause, and the treatment options.
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor