Despite continuing advances in health care, diabetes affects more people each year. According to the American Diabetes Association, the number of Americans with diabetes increased by 3.3 million over two years. This was also an increase from 8.3% of the population to 9.3%. There is no cure for diabetes, which may in part account for the continually increasing number of affected individuals. The number of new cases of diabetes is also increasing, however, and this is a serious cause for concern. Because of the increasing incidence and prevalence of this chronic illness, it is important to understand it and its effects.
As many people know, there are two types of diabetes. Type 1 generally appears in younger populations, and type 2 often first appears when people are middle-aged. Both types result in elevated blood sugar levels; the difference between the two is how. People with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, a hormone required to process sugar in our blood. In contrast, people with type 2 diabetes have defects in their insulin receptors. This means that the body produces insulin, but the cells do not respond appropriately and blood sugar levels remain high.
Both types will affect the individual for the rest of his or her life and require careful management. Type 2 diabetes patients can manage their symptoms to a certain extent through dietary adjustments. They also take pills that reduce blood sugar levels. In contrast, type 1 diabetes patients require insulin injections because they do not produce any. There are also additional complications that arise when the body does not have any insulin.
The list of diabetes-caused complications is extensive. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to high blood pressure, blindness, kidney problems, and amputations. The underlying cause of these complications for both types is the same: high blood sugar. High blood sugar creates plaques in our blood vessels which increases blood pressure. Increased blood pressure then causes kidney disease, among many other complications. Atherosclerotic plaques can be even more dangerous if they form in the coronary arteries – the arteries that carry blood directly to the heart. These plaques can also reduce blood flow to the eyes, contributing to blindness. Changes in the body’s osmotic pressure due to the high levels of sugar in the blood also affect the lens of the eye, again leading to reduced vision. High blood sugar levels also affect nerves and our immune system, which are the underlying causes for amputation. For example, a patient may injure his or her foot but not realize it because of problems with the nerves. The wound can then become infected easier due to a compromised immune system. The infection may then enter the bones at which point amputation is the safest option to prevent greater complications. Type 1 diabetes patients face additional complications because of the complete lack of insulin production. Without insulin, their bodies instead turn to muscle and fat as sources of energy. The breakdown of fats release acidic compounds into the blood stream.
Preventing diabetes is a very difficult task. Type 2 diabetes is hereditary so individuals with a history of diabetes in their families should be aware that they are at greater risk of having diabetes themselves. In contrast, type 1 is due to a mutation and is not hereditary. Type 2 diabetes is more common, and likely the more prevalent type in the overall increase of diabetes in the American population. It is mainly seen in obese and unhealthy individuals. As with many other diseases affecting a large number of Americans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the risk of diabetes. Due to the intricacies of the body’s self-regulation, finding a true cure for either type of diabetes will be very difficult. Until then, we can reduce the prevalence of diabetes by reducing obesity and improving the overall health of our population. Unfortunately, this approach is certainly easier said than done.