Diabetes: Overview

Diabetes is a metabolic disease where the body loses the ability to properly process sugars (glucose). The full medical name is “Diabetes Mellitus”.

Diabetes is very common, affecting about 4% of the population (1 in 25), but its early mild symptoms mean that it is estimated that another 4% of the population have early undiagnosed diabetes (or pre-diabetes).

Most diabetics have a good prognosis and a long life, with treatment and control ranging from diet to pills to insulin. However, diabetes has some severe complications that typically arise after years or decades, which can cause a shorter lifespan or debility (e.g. diabetic heart disease, diabetic kidney disease, peripheral neuropathy; see complications of diabetes).

Diabetes Overview

Diabetes is a chronic disease with a good short-term prognosis, but the risk of many long-term complications after years or decades. It affects about 4% of the US population, but due to early symptoms being quite mild, it is estimated that up to another 4% of the population have undiagnosed diabetes.

Symptoms. The symptoms of diabetes are many and varied depending on the type and severity. Early symptoms are often quite mild such as a vague feeling of unwell, recurring leg rashes and other mild symptoms. As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms are common: excessive thirst, excessive urination, chronic hunger, weight loss (despite over-eating), muscle cramps, and others. Very severe diabetes can be potentially fatal, due to HHNS or DKA, with severe symptoms such as nausea, breath odor, breathing difficulty, and other symptoms. Read more about: Symptoms of Diabetes.

Prognosis. The prognosis of diabetes is good in the short-term but less good in the long-term. Once treatment has started, the patient usually has close to a normal life, but with ongoing issues related to controlling diabetes. However, there are many long-term complications of diabetes, affecting the heart, kidneys, eyes, feet, and other areas. A person with diabetes often has a shorter lifespan overall (an early statistic was that life expectancy is shortened by 11 years on average, but there have been many advances in treatment since this study). Read more about: Complications of Diabetes.

Types. There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, also called Juvenile Diabetes or Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM), usually affects the young and requires insulin. Type 2 Diabetes, also called Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM), usually affects older people in their 40’s or 50’s, although recently there have been more teens getting NIDDM. Type 2 diabetes also has two main subtypes, depending on whether the cause is insulin resistance, or insulin deficiency. Pre-Diabetes is usually considered to be an early stage of Type 2 diabetes. Gestational Diabetes is a form of diabetes in pregnant women, that is related to Type 2 Diabetes. MODY Diabetes is another rare type. Secondary Diabetes can also result from an underlying condition (e.g. Hemochromatosis). Read more about: Types of Diabetes.

Treatment. The treatment of diabetes has many factors and depends on the type and severity of diabetes. The main treatment options are lifestyle changes (weight loss, exercise, etc.), diabetes pills, or insulin injections. Insulin is certain to be required for Type 1 Diabetes, but may or may not be required for Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes may also progress, requiring changes to treatments over time, ultimately requiring insulin. Pre-diabetes may also progress to full Type 2 Diabetes. Some success in reversing or slowing the progression of Pre-Diabetes or Type 2 Diabetes is possible with aggressive lifestyle changes, but unlikely to avoid the need for insulin in Type 1 Diabetes (although such lifestyle changes also help prevent complications of Type 1 Diabetes). Read more about: Treatments for Diabetes.

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.