Historically, diabetes has always been a leading cause of death by disease. Even now, with the widespread availability of insulin, an estimated one-half million North Americans die due to diabetes and its complications such as heart and kidney disease, stroke, blindness and amputation each year.
Diabetes is a serious disease that impairs the body's ability to use food properly.
Normally, the body burns glucose as fuel to supply itself with energy. This process is called metabolism.
However, in order to properly metabolize glucose, the body requires another substance; insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a gland located just beneath the stomach; it's job is to regulate the body's use of glucose. Insulin is essential to the metabolic process.
Burning glucose without insulin simply cannot be done. Therein lies the problem for people with diabetes; they either don't produce enough insulin to properly metabolize glucose, or the insulin they have is being used inefficiently by the body.
Without insulin to turn glucose into energy, the glucose piles up in the bloodstream and spills into the urine. Excessively high levels of sugar in the blood and the urine are the hallmarks of untreated diabetes.
The main focus of diabetes treatment is to control blood sugar levels and keep them in the normal range. Failure to do so can result in such complications as heart and kidney disease, stroke, blindness and amputation. The specific form of treatment depends on the type of diabetes a person has.
Type 1(insulin-dependant or juvenile)
Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but most commonly is diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s. With this type of diabetes, a person's pancreas produces little or no insulin. Although the causes are not entirely known, scientists believe the body's own defense system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Those with type 1 diabetes control their disease by taking multiple insulin injections everyday.
Type 2 diabetes generally develops after age 40, but can appear earlier. Recently it has begun to appear with more frequency in children. In this form of diabetes the pancreas still produces insulin, but the body does not produce enough or is not able to use it effectively. Treatment includes diet control, excercise, self-monitoring of blood glucose and, in some cases, oral drugs or insulin.
About 2 to 5 percent of pregnant women develop high blood sugar during pregnancy. Although this type of diabetes usually disappears after the birth of the baby, women who have had gestational diabetes are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.