Nearly 16 million people in the United States–nearly one out of every 17 people–have Diabetes Essay. And about 1,800 new cases are diagnosed each day.
Technically, this disease is known as “diabetes mellitus,” diabetes from the Greek for excessive urination, a symptom the ancients noticed, and mellitus, from the Latin for honey–diabetic urine is filled with sugar and is sweet.
There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. All of them are a little different.
But everyone with diabetes has one thing in common: Little or no ability to move sugar–or glucose–out of their blood into their cells, where it is the body’s primary fuel.
Everyone has glucose in their blood, whether or not they have diabetes. This glucose comes from food. When we eat, the digestive process breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is absorbed into the blood in the small intestine.
People who don’t have diabetes rely on insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, to move glucose from the blood into the body’s billions of cells. But people who have diabetes either don’t produce insulin or can’t efficiently use the insulin they produce.
Without insulin, they can’t move glucose into the cells. Glucose accumulates in the blood, a condition called hyperglycemia (“hyper” = too much, “glycemia” = glucose in the blood). Hyperglycemia causes intense thirst, the need to urinate frequently, blurred vision, fatigue, and other symptoms. Over time, high blood glucose can cause very serious medical problems.
Adding up the total toll of diabetes complications, the disease is one of the nation’s leading causes of death. All diabetes complications can be largely prevented by practicing what is known as “tight control,” keeping your blood glucose level as close to normal as possible.
This takes time and energy, but many diabetics do it successfully and live full lives without much trouble.
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes diabetes, but it appears to result from a combination of genetics and environmental factors, including viral infections, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyle.
Currently, there is no cure for diabetes, but the good news is that the disease can be managed. People with diabetes can live rich, happy lives.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes. Yet two factors are important in both.
First, you must inherit a predisposition to the disease. Second, something in your environment must trigger diabetes. Genes alone are not enough. One proof of this is identical twins. Identical twins have identical genes. Yet when one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other gets the disease at most only half the time.
When one twin has type 2 diabetes, the other’s risk is at most 3 in 4. In most cases of type 1 diabetes, people need to inherit risk factors from both parents. Scientists think these factors must be more common in whites because whites have the highest rate of type 1 diabetes. Because most people who are at risk do not get diabetes, researchers want to find out what the environmental triggers are.
One trigger might be related to cold weather. Type 1 diabetes develops more often in winter than summer and is more common in places with cold climates.
Another trigger might be viruses. Perhaps a virus that has only mild effects on most people triggers type 1 diabetes in others.
Early diet may also play a role. Type 1 diabetes is less common in people who were breastfed and in those who first ate solid foods at later ages. In many people, the development of type 1 diabetes seems to take many years. In experiments that followed relatives of people with type 1 diabetes, researchers found that most of those who later got diabetes had certain autoantibodies in their blood for years before.
(Antibodies are proteins that destroy bacteria or viruses. Autoantibodies are antibodies ‘gone bad,’ which attack the body’s own tissues.)
Type 2 diabetes has a stronger genetic basis than type 1, yet it also depends more on environmental factors. Sound confusing? What happens is that a family history of type 2 diabetes is one of the strongest risk factors for getting the disease but it only seems to matter in people living a Western lifestyle.
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