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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Diabetes Mellitus
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Diabetes Mellitus

Alternate Names : Diabetes

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Diabetes mellitus, often called diabetes, is a condition that makes it hard for the body to control the level of glucose in the blood. This means it is hard for the body to convert food into the energy that the body needs to work. Glucose is the main form of sugar in the body.

What is going on in the body?

The pancreas, a long, thin organ located behind the stomach, makes insulin. In most people, the pancreas makes extra insulin when they eat. It is then released into the bloodstream. Insulin helps move glucose that is in the bloodstream to the inside of cells in the body. Glucose is a key source of energy for the body. In a person with diabetes, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep up with the body's demand. So glucose cannot be moved into the cells and used. In some types of diabetes, the body cells resist the insulin. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood. And that leads to a high blood glucose level, called hyperglycemia.

Some 17 million Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetic Association, also known as ADA. There are three main types of diabetes.

  • Type 1 diabetes. This type used to be known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, IDDM, or juvenile-onset diabetes. A person with this type makes little or no insulin. So he or she needs to take insulin shots each day.
  • Type 2 diabetes. This type used to be known as noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, NIDDM, or adult-onset diabetes. This is by far the most common type of diabetes. Someone with type 2 diabetes might make healthy or even high levels of insulin. But obesity makes his or her body resistant to its effect. Type 2 diabetes used to be rare in children. But with the increase in obesity in children, doctors are now finding that as many as 1 out of each 20 children who have diabetes has type 2 diabetes. Of these children, 85% are obese.
  • Gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced diabetes. This type of diabetes develops in a pregnant woman. In most cases, this type of diabetes goes away after the woman's child is born.
  • There are other types of diabetes that are less common. This category includes diabetes caused by a genetic defect or pancreatic diseases. Other types of diabetes are caused by hormonal problems or from being exposed to certain drugs or chemicals.

    These include:

  • Diabetes caused by a hormonal imbalance. One example is Cushing syndrome, which involves high levels of adrenal hormones.
  • Diabetes caused by medicines. These can include prednisone, oral contraceptives
  • , or thiazide diuretics.
  • Diabetes caused by other conditions. These include chronic inflammation, infection, or other damage to the pancreas.
  • What are the causes and risks of the disease?

    Genetics may play a part in all types of diabetes mellitus. Other causes and risks vary. They depend on the type of diabetes involved.

    Type 1 diabetes does not always have a known cause. Experts believe it might be caused by an autoimmune disorder, in which the body makes antibodies that destroy pancreatic cells. Experts do know that type 1 diabetes is more common in whites than in other groups.

    Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells in the body are resistant to insulin. As a result, the body cannot use blood glucose as well as it should. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Obesity. This is the main cause of type 2 diabetes in both adults and children. A recent study showed a 33% increase in the number of Americans with type 2 diabetes over the past 8 years. The increase was 70% in people ages 30 to 39 years old and was linked to a sharp rise in obesity in this group.
  • Race. This type of diabetes is more common in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
  • Lack of physical exercise. A recent study showed that walking briskly for 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week reduces a woman's risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure. Experts define this as a blood pressure equal to or greater than 140/90.
  • Low HDL level, known as the good cholesterol, and high triglyceride level. HDL levels equal to or less than 35 mg/dL and/or a triglyceride level greater than or equal to 250 mg/dL are considered unhealthy.
  • Age of 45 or older.
  • History of gestational diabetes, or having babies that weighed more than 9 pounds at birth.
  • Hormonal changes linked to menopause. A recent study of 16,000 American women between the ages of 40 and 65 showed that diabetes was one of the top six diseases diagnosed. A long-term study is under way to see if menopause and changes in hormone level are factors in the development of type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is considered when a woman has any abnormal glucose test result during pregnancy. It may be the result of increased hormone levels during pregnancy, which work against insulin. Weight gain during pregnancy might also be a factor in causing gestational diabetes.
  • Almost all people who develop type 2 diabetes have a condition called pre-diabetes first. This condition used to be known as impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose, and the ADA estimates that almost 16 million people over the age of 40 have it. This condition occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than healthy levels but too low to be diagnosed as diabetes. Without lifestyle changes, most people who have pre-diabetes will progress to type 2 diabetes within 10 years.


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    Diabetes Mellitus: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Reviewer: Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 06/01/02

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