Recognising diabetes, a key moment in patient intervention
Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a chronic condition caused by an individual’s inability to produce his or her daily requirement of insulin, a hormone from the pancreas that regulates the level of sugar (glucose, which is a kind of fuel for the body) in the blood. This leads to hyperglycaemia with serious health consequences
Diabetes is diagnosed when blood glucose levels, measured after fasting for at least 8 hours, are higher than 126 mg.
Types of diabetes
There are basically two types of diabetes:
- Type I, which mainly occurs in childhood and adolescence and is characterised by the fact that the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed by the immune system;
- type II, which is much more widespread and common, in which the insulin produced is not sufficient for the body’s needs.
There is also a special situation called gestational diabetes.
During pregnancy, some women may experience an increase in blood glucose levels, which usually return to normal after delivery.
Diabetes is a disease that can remain symptom-free for years, so particular attention should be paid to its clinical manifestations.
The main symptoms, which are more pronounced in type I, however, are
- the need to urinate very often (polyuria);
- the need to drink many litres of water a day (polydipsia);
- unexplained weight loss;
- feeling of great fatigue;
- itching and frequent infections (especially of the genito-urinary system);
- blurred vision.
Causes of diabetes
The causes of diabetes vary depending on the type:
- Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease; in this case, the immune system destroys the pancreatic cells responsible for insulin production, for reasons that are not yet fully understood;
- type II diabetes is often associated with factors such as obesity and/or advanced age and is determined by two abnormalities that may also be concomitant:
- insulin resistance, i.e. a resistance of the cells to the action of insulin;
- reduced insulin production by the pancreatic cells.
Risks of diabetes
Undiagnosed diabetes can cause serious damage to various organs.
Other problems include
- kidney deterioration and failure (diabetic nephropathy);
- damage to the eye and retina (diabetic retinopathy) with the risk of blindness;
- dysfunction of the nervous system and peripheral nerves (diabetic neuropathy).
For this reason, in addition to early diagnosis, it is essential for sufferers to have regular medical check-ups to assess the function of the kidneys, cardiovascular system, eyes and nervous system in particular, as well as specialist visits to adjust the therapy.
The disease can be treated with personalised diets and targeted therapies: the patient can easily return to a normal lifestyle, which is certainly healthier than the one he or she was used to, perhaps by taking more physical activity and choosing a better quality and quantity of food to eat.
It is very important, then, that the patient finds within himself, with the help of the medical specialist, the energy and determination necessary to deal with the problem.
How to prevent diabetes
In a situation of risk, e.g. pre-diabetes, when, that is, the levels of glucose in the blood are slightly higher than normal values, the prevention of the development of the disease is possible through:
- correct diet
- physical activity;
- periodic blood glucose checks through a simple blood tests