People with diabetes cannot maintain healthy levels of blood glucose unless they carefully monitor their food intake and, in most cases, take medications. While other people experience occasional bouts of high blood glucose, patients with diabetes experience this problem more severely and frequently unless they are appropriately treated. Abnormally high blood glucose levels that persist over time can lead to a number of serious complications.
What causes blood glucose to rise?
A small fraction – as few as 5% – of patients with diabetes are unable to make any insulin at all, a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body process carbohydrates from meals. This condition is known as type 1 diabetes.
The vast majority – as many as 95% – of patients with diabetes can produce normal levels of insulin early in the disease, but their bodies cannot appropriately respond to this hormone. In these patients, who have type 2 diabetes, insulin is no longer fully effective at lowering blood glucose.
What common health problems occur in people with diabetes?
Persons with diabetes are at high risk of developing complications. Generally, these problems fall into one of two categories:
- “Acute” problems arise quickly and get better with prompt treatment.
For example, eating too many carbs or forgetting to take medication can lead to high blood glucose in patients with diabetes. Until it is treated, high blood glucose levels cause blurry vision, fatigue, thirstiness, and urinating more often than usual.
- “Chronic” problems develop over many years and are difficult to reverse.
For example, patients who have uncontrolled diabetes for many years often develop damage in their blood vessels, both big and small, throughout the body. Patients with diabetes are two to three times more likely than other people to develop heart disease. They are also at risk for developing complications in the eyes, nerves, and kidney.
How is diabetes treated?
Multiple options are available for treating diabetes. Persons with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to control their blood glucose. Some persons with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose by monitoring their diet, but most require pills or insulin.