Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly referred to as diabetes, is a group of metabolic disorders in which there are high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. Symptoms of high blood sugar include frequent urination, increased thirst, and increased hunger. If left untreated, diabetes can cause many complications. Acute complications can include diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state, or death. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, foot ulcers, and damage to the eyes.

Diabetes is due to either the pancreas not producing enough insulin or the cells of the body not responding properly to the insulin produced. There are three main types of diabetes mellitus:

  • Type 1 DM results from the pancreas’s failure to produce enough insulin. This form was previously referred to as “insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus” (IDDM) or “juvenile diabetes”. The cause is unknown.
  • Type 2 DM begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin properly. As the disease progresses a lack of insulin may also develop. This form was previously referred to as “non insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus” (NIDDM) or “adult-onset diabetes”. The most common cause is excessive body weight and not enough exercise.
  • Gestational diabetes is the third main form and occurs when pregnant women without a previous history of diabetes develop high blood sugar levels.

Prevention and treatment involve maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical exercise, a normal body weight, and avoiding use of tobacco. Control of blood pressure and maintaining proper foot care are important for people with the disease. Type 1 DM must be managed with insulin injections. Type 2 DM may be treated with medications with or without insulin. Insulin and some oral medications can cause low blood sugar. Weight loss surgery in those with obesity is sometimes an effective measure in those with type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after the birth of the baby.

Low blood sugar is common in persons with type 1 and type 2 DM. Most cases are mild and are not considered medical emergencies. Effects can range from feelings of unease, sweating, trembling, and increased appetite in mild cases to more serious issues such as confusion, changes in behavior such as aggressiveness, seizures, unconsciousness, and (rarely) permanent brain damage or death in severe cases. Moderate hypoglycemia may easily be mistaken for drunkenness; rapid breathing and sweating, cold, pale skin are characteristic of hypoglycemia but not definitive. Mild to moderate cases are self-treated by eating or drinking something high in sugar. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness and must be treated with intravenous glucose or injections with glucagon.

People (usually with type 1 DM) may also experience episodes of diabetic ketoacidosis, a metabolic disturbance characterized by nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, the smell of acetone on the breath, deep breathing known as Kussmaul breathing, and in severe cases a decreased level of consciousness.

A rare but equally severe possibility is hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state, which is more common in type 2 DM and is mainly the result of dehydration.

Diabetes mellitus is classified into four broad categories: type 1, type 2, gestational diabetes, and “other specific types”. The “other specific types” are a collection of a few dozen individual causes. Diabetes is a more variable disease than once thought and people may have combinations of forms. The term “diabetes”, without qualification, usually refers to diabetes mellitus.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is characterized by loss of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreatic islets, leading to insulin deficiency. This type can be further classified as immune-mediated or idiopathic. The majority of type 1 diabetes is of the immune-mediated nature, in which a T cell-mediated autoimmune attack leads to the loss of beta cells and thus insulin.[33] It causes approximately 10% of diabetes mellitus cases in North America and Europe. Most affected people are otherwise healthy and of a healthy weight when onset occurs. Sensitivity and responsiveness to insulin are usually normal, especially in the early stages. Type 1 diabetes can affect children or adults, but was traditionally termed “juvenile diabetes” because a majority of these diabetes cases were in children.

Type 2

Type 2 DM is characterized by insulin resistance, which may be combined with relatively reduced insulin secretion. The defective responsiveness of body tissues to insulin is believed to involve the insulin receptor. However, the specific defects are not known. Diabetes mellitus cases due to a known defect are classified separately. Type 2 DM is the most common type of diabetes mellitus.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) resembles type 2 DM in several respects, involving a combination of relatively inadequate insulin secretion and responsiveness. It occurs in about 2–10% of all pregnancies and may improve or disappear after delivery. However, after pregnancy approximately 5–10% of women with gestational diabetes are found to have diabetes mellitus, most commonly type 2. Gestational diabetes is fully treatable, but requires careful medical supervision throughout the pregnancy. Management may include dietary changes, blood glucose monitoring, and in some cases, insulin may be required.

Maturity onset diabetes of the young

Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is an autosomal dominant inherited form of diabetes, due to one of several single-gene mutations causing defects in insulin production. It is significantly less common than the three main types. The name of this disease refers to early hypotheses as to its nature. Being due to a defective gene, this disease varies in age at presentation and in severity according to the specific gene defect; thus there are at least 13 subtypes of MODY. People with MODY often can control it without using insulin.