What exactly is diabetes?

So what exactly is Diabetes?

The below definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Diabetes: a disorder of the metabolism in which a lack of the hormone insulin results in a failure to absorb sugar and starch properly

Insulin: a hormone produced in the pancreas, which regulates glucose levels in the blood, and the lack of which causes diabetes

Pancreas: a large gland behind the stomach which produces digestive enzymes and releases them into the duodenum

Islets of Langerhans: a group of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin

There are 2 main types of Diabetes, type 1 and type 2, and whilst both are serious conditions they differ in symptoms, causality, and treatment:

Type 1 Diabetes: is where your body cannot make a hormone called insulin which leads to high blood glucose levels. Type 1 is a lifelong condition which occurs when your body attacks and destroys the cells of the Islets of Langerhans, in the pancreas, which make insulin.

Insulin is an essential hormone for the body as it allows the glucose in the blood to enter the cells to provide the fuel the body needs to live. As those with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce their own insulin the condition must be managed by insulin injections or use of an insulin pump.

Type 2 Diabetes: is where the insulin made in the pancreas doesn’t work properly or there isn’t enough insulin being made.

About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 and with appropriate care and treatment it can be managed, and potentially reversed. Management can be done successfully by healthier eating, a more active lifestyle, and/or losing weight although many people with Type 2 will eventually need medication to bring blood glucose down to a safe level.

There are also a number of rarer types of diabetes:

Gestational Diabetes: is a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women and occurs where hormones produced during pregnancy make it difficult for the body to use its insulin properly. After the birth the Gestational Diabetes usually goes away.

Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY): is caused by a mutation in a single gene and is passed down from a parent, usually diagnosed before the age of 25, and does not necessarily require treatment with insulin.

Neonatal Diabetes: is diagnosed under the age of 9 months and differs from type 1 and 2 diabetes in that it is not an autoimmune condition. Neonatal diabetes can be either transient or permanent and only half of those diagnosed will need treatment with insulin.

Wolfram Syndrome: is a rare genetic disorder having as one of its four most common features Diabetes Mellitus which, although not an autoimmune condition, is treated with insulin in the same way as type 1.

Alstrom Syndrome: is a rare, genetically inherited syndrome which can result in the development of type 2 diabetes through a resistance to insulin.

Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA): is a different type of diabetes which, at the moment, appears to share parts of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. LADA is treated like type 2 diabetes but those affected may move onto treatment with insulin much quicker than those with type 2.

For more detailed information on diabetes, it’s different types, and loads more check out the excellent Diabetes UK website

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