Diabetes can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, sex or background and it now affects about 2% of the British population. But it is far from being just a 20th century malaise.
Insulin controls our blood sugar levels and it is needed to convert glucose to energy. It is produced in the pancreas. Glucose is a simple sugar we absorb into our blood stream when we digest carbohydrate foods and it is a vital fuel for our brain and muscles.
As foods are digested, our blood glucose level rises. When we go without food, glucose is released from extra stores in the liver to sustain us. People who don't have diabetes produce insulin naturally to maintain constant blood glucose levels - neither too high or too low. Diabetes is the result of impaired pancreatic function where production of insulin is either limited or ceases altogether. The result of this is that the body is unable to cope with the rapid rises and falls of blood glucose levels which cause some classic symptoms which include: Excessive urination, thirst, genital itchiness, tiredness and other symptoms including weight loss, blurred vision and recurrent infections.
It is essential that these symptoms do not go undiagnosed or untreated since untreated diabetes can result in a number serious health complications including:
blindness caused by retinopathy,
Damaged nerve endings (neuropathy)- particularly to the body's extremities - the legs and feet being the most susceptible - resulting in the loss of feeling where damage has occurred which in turn could cause ulceration and/or gangrene.
Kidney damage and cardiovascular complications etc.,
Diabetes has two major forms. One being Type 1 or IDDM (Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) where the pancreas produces no insulin or in such minute quantities that it has no effect on blood sugar levels. This type of diabetes usually occurs in young people although it can arise occasionally in older people too. This kind of diabetes is treated with the use of injected insulin several times a day. The other major type of diabetes is Type 2 or NIDDM (Non-insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus). This type of diabetes is also known as 'maturity onset diabetes' which frequently occurs in the 40 and over age group. In NIDDM patients the pancreas may be still producing some insulin in limited quantities which is not enough to be able to control blood sugar levels without some form of treatment. This treatment could be simply to advise patients to loose weight and eat, what is now known as, 'the healthy diet' which is reduced sugar, reduced fat and high fibre diet. The reduction of weight means that there are less cells for the limited insulin production to cope with and the reduced sugar intake does not place an undue strain on the metabolism. Sometimes the pancreas could do with a little help and a tablet treatment is available which prompts the limited healthy insulin producing cells in the pancreas to do a little 'overtime'.
Life with diabetes still has serious implications to the patient. However, the current philosophy of treatment includes a large degree of self-help and management of the condition. Once diabetes is under control, the patient may lead as normal, healthy life as anyone else. For the future, the road to discover a cure is an extremely long one and its end may never be reached. Much research is being done into the condition particularly in research into prevention. The British Diabetic Association plays a vital part in this research and is the major source of research funding in the UK. Any assistance would be extremely welcome.
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