Basics on Diabetes Mellitus and Complications

By Dr . Abay Taddesse

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a chronic illness that results from absolute or relative deficiency of insulin ( hormone which controls blood glucose) that leads to excessive amounts of glucose in the blood which leads to acute ( short term ) and chronic ( long term ) complications which  cause most of the morbidity ( disease burden) and mortality ( death ) from the disease.

So far there are no cures for diabetes and all types of  treatments  (  pills, insulin injections ) are aimed at controlling blood glucose at a reasonable target so as to prevent short term and long term complications.

Classification of DM

* Type 1 DM
– Results from destruction of  pancreatic cells which produce insulin leading to absolute insulin deficiency
– Caused by genetic predisposition to the disease and autoimmune destruction of the insulin producing cells
– Needs treatment with insulin from the time of  diagnosis
– Insulin can be given in different forms- insulin vials with syringe and needle, prefilled insulin pens and continuous insulin delivery through insulin pumps
– Blood glucose runs in very wide ranges – at times very low
( hypoglycemia ) and most of the time running very high ( hyperglycemia)
– High risk for low blood glucose
( hypoglycemia) on treatment with insulin

*Type 2 DM
  – Results from progressive insulin secretion defect from the pancreas and inability of the body to use insulin which is called insulin resistance
  – Family history of DM in immediate family members commonly found
  – Can be treated with diet and weight loss ( which improves ability of the body to use insulin ) and / or pills or insulin alone or in combination
  – Life style change with diet and weight loss is the preferred first step of treatment

* Gestational DM
  – Diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy

* Other less common types of DM

Complications of DM

* Acute ( short term complications )
  – Dangerously low blood glucose
( hypoglycemia ) which can lead to coma and death
  – Diabetic coma due to excess acid production from fat
      ( Diabetic ketoacidosis)
  – Diabetic coma due to very high glucose in the blood which leads to dehydration

*Chronic ( long term complications)
  – Blockage of  coronary arteries
  ( blood supply to heart)
  – Blockage of  major arteries to organs and legs
  – Damage to eyes leading to loss of vision
  – Damage to kidneys leading to kidney failure
  – Damage to sensory  nerves of feet leading to diabetic feet ulcers and amputations.

Reference: American Diabetes Association Clinical Practice Recommendations published on Diabetes Care Jan 2013, vol 36 , supplement 1.

I will write more on prevention and treatment of common long term complications on future posts.

Dr . Abay Taddesse is a graduate of Jimma university, trained on Endocrinology , Diabetes and Metabolism at Wayne State University in Detroit and currently is practicing Endocrinology and Diabetes care in Southern Ohio, USA.

About Tenayistilign

I am a physician trained at Jimma Institute of Health Sciences ( now Jimma University, in Jimma, Ethiopia) and Wayne State University ( Detroit, MI, USA). I teach and practice General Nephrology/Hypertension and Kidney Transplantation in the USA.
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