Diabetes Mellitus - Description

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic health disorder. Chronic means that the condition lasts for many years. Diabetes can cause serious health problems. These problems include kidney failure, heart disease, stroke (see stroke entry), and blindness. About fourteen million Americans have diabetes. As many as half of these people do not know they have the condition.

A type of sugar that is present in the blood and in cells, used by cells to make energy.
A hormone (type of protein) produced by the pancreas that makes it possible for cells to use glucose in the production of energy.
A condition that results from the build-up of toxic chemicals known as ketones in the blood.
A gland located behind the stomach that produces insulin.

The Energy Your Body Needs

Our bodies require a constant production of energy. We use that energy to walk, talk, think, and carry on many other activities. The energy comes from the food we eat.

Certain foods contain chemicals known as carbohydrates. When carbohydrates enter the body, they break down to form a simple sugar known as glucose. The glucose travels to cells throughout the body by way of the bloodstream.

To enter a cell, glucose may need the help of another chemical known as insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas. Insulin also travels through the bloodstream to all cells in the body. It acts like a key that opens cells so that glucose can enter.

In a healthy body, enough insulin is produced to make sure that all cells get the glucose they need. The cells can then produce enough energy to satisfy the body's needs.

In some cases, however, this system breaks down. One problem may be that the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. There is not enough insulin for all the cells that need it. Glucose cannot get into many of the body's cells. The cells cannot produce enough energy for the body's needs.

Another problem is that some cells may no longer recognize insulin. The pancreas may still produce insulin for all the body's cells, but some cells don't respond to it. Again, glucose can't get into the cells and energy is not produced to satisfy the body's needs.

Types of Diabetes Mellitus

Two types of diabetes mellitus are recognized. These two types differ in two major ways—the age at which they occur and their causes. Type I diabetes is also called juvenile diabetes. It usually begins during childhood or adolescence. In this form of diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. The condition can be treated by having a person take daily injections of insulin. For this reason, Type I diabetes is also called insulin-dependent diabetes. Type I diabetes affects about three people in one thousand in the United States.

Type II diabetes is sometimes called adult-onset diabetes. The name "adult-onset" comes from the fact that Type II diabetes usually does not appear until a person grows older. More than 90 percent of the diabetics in the United States are Type II diabetics. This form of the disorder is not caused by low levels of insulin. Instead, the body's cells do not recognize insulin in the bloodstream. They are not able to get the glucose they need to make energy.

People with Type II diabetes do not need to take insulin. Their body produces all the insulin it needs. The body just can't use it properly. As a result, Type II diabetes is sometimes called noninsulin-dependent diabetes. Type II diabetes is treated with diet, exercise, and drugs.

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