A disease characterized by a complete or partial inability of the body to burn sugar as a fuel. It occurs in all age groups, most diabetics are obese, or slightly obese, middle-aged women.
The tendency to diabetes may be inherited and in such cases the disease may be brought on by obesity, infection, emotional shock, surgery, pregnancy, or the onset of change-of-life. Diabetic women often bear abnormally large children some years before they develop the disease.
What Causes Diabetes?
Improper functioning of the pancreas is thought to be the key to diabetes. Diabetic pancreas may not produce enough insulin, a hormone that is essential to the utilization of carbohydrates as a food by the human body. Under certain circumstances, diabetes may develop even the pancreas produces normal amounts of insulin. In these cases there is apparently a relative deficiency of insulin.
Because the body unable to utilize sugar as a source of energy, it then draws upon protein and fat as energy sources. This results in a gradual wasting away of muscular tissue, which becomes evident as a loss of weight. The use of fats for fuel is potentially even more dangerous. For these are broken down into substances called ketone bodies, which upset the acidity-alkalinity balance of the body.
The result is a condition called acidosis, which may terminate in a coma. This coma is characterized by a fruity aroma of the breath, which is produced by the presence of acetone, one of the ketone bodies. Diabetic coma is distinct from the shock which develops when the patient takes too much insulin. Too much sugar enters the cells too quickly, resulting in a serious shortage of glucose in the blood.
Diabetic may appear well and completely unaware of his condition until a routine examination of his blood and urine reveals an abnormally high concentration of sugar. The condition progresses until symptoms appear. These include: excessive urination, thirst, dryness of the mouth, weakness, loss of weight, and itching of the genital areas. Less frequent symptoms are excessive hunger and disturbances in vision.
Diabetics are susceptible to cataracts, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and heart disease. In diabetics of long standing the kidneys and nervous system may be affected and blindness may be produced by hemorrhages in the eyes. Diabetics must maintain scrupulous care of their feet, avoiding ill-fitting shoes, harsh chemicals, and home surgery.
Diet is an essential aspect of treatment. It should be well-balanced, provide enough calories to maintain ideal weight, and restrict carbohydrates. Many older patients can be controlled on diet alone. Others require insulin or drugs to lower blood sugar. Caution must be observed to avoid insulin shock which may result from too little food, as well as too much insulin. With proper care and attention, diabetics can lead normal lives.
Source : Encyclopedia International by Irving Solomon, M.D.