What is Diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic disease, which is characterized by insulin deficiency, either relative or absolute, or a resistance to the effects of insulin. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and plays a role in about half of all myocardial infarction and about 3 quarters of all kidney failures. Beginning only recently, diabetes is also the leading cause of new blindness.

Diabetes Mellitus is divided into two basic categories, Type I diabetes and Type II diabetes, which is further broken down into smaller groups.

Type I Diabetes, which is when the body has an insulin deficiency, is much more common among children. There are two different types of Type I diabetes: immune mediated diabetes and idiopathic diabetes.

Immune Mediated diabetes is where the bodies own immune system attacks itself and causes cell mediated destruction of the insulin producing pancreatic cells. In children, the effects of immune mediated diabetes are often much greater than in adults.

In children with immune mediated diabetes, ketoacidosi is very likely to occur, which causes a toxic buildup of chemicals as the body starts using fat to get energy instead of using sugar. Adults that develop Type I Diabetes usually develop fasting diabetes, although if they become infected, ketoacidosis is common.

The cause of idiopathic Type I diabetes is not known and patients who develop idiopathic diabetes do not have any evidence of autoimmune disease.

The majority of patients with Type II diabetes are obese, although this is not always the case with gestational diabetes, which occurs in women during childbirth. Typically gestational diabetes will go away after the child is born, but the woman will be at an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes later in life.

About half of the people in the United States with diabetes are undiagnosed, with women and the elderly being at increased risk. About 90% of all diabetes cases in the United States are Type II diabetes, which is typically only found in those over 40 years of age.

Those with Type II diabetes are largely overweight or suffer from obesity. This is often compounded by a lack of physical activity and a history of gestational diabetes. Hypertension has also been shown to play a role and Type II diabetes is more common in people of black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and Pacific Islander descent.

Most who contract Type II Diabetes are over 40, with many over the age of 45. In part this is due to the fact that as our body ages, it naturally develops an immunity to insulin. The release of insulin is also often delayed among the elderly, which helps lead to a higher than average number of senior diabetes cases.

Diabetes if left untreated can be very serious and many people have diabetes but do not know it. However, with careful blood glucose monitoring and regular treatment, which involves exercise, dieting, and the use of medicines, like insulin shots, most people with diabetes will be able to lead a relatively healthy life.

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