Dr Thapelo Motshudi
18 October 2022
4 min read

Diabetes mellitus, commonly called “high blood sugar”, is a disease of abnormal metabolism of insulin and glucose. There are two types of the illness, termed type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes usually starts early in life and is not that common. It is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common, is due to a combination of inadequate production of insulin and the body’s inability to use the small amount that has been produced. Women can also develop diabetes in pregnancy, and this is called gestational diabetes.

What is the cause of diabetes?

Whereas environmental factors might play some role, the cause of type 1 diabetes is mainly genetic. The body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, and this is called an autoimmune process. Genetic factors also play a role in type 2 diabetes, but the main causes are diet, obesity, and lifestyle.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The most common symptoms that people present with are excessive thirst (polydipsia); excessive urination (polyuria); frequent eating (polyphagia); and weight loss. Occasionally patients might present with increasing blurry vision, pins and needles in the feet, and frequent yeast infections. To confirm the diagnosis doctors, perform a blood glucose test, which can either be random or after fasting. Complications are many and include loss of vision; cardiovascular disease; kidney failure; and abnormalities of the nerves, which leads to pins and needles and the diabetic foot. Erectile dysfunction is also common in men, and if the diabetes remains uncontrolled it can lead to amputation of the diabetic foot. Diabetes also lowers immunity, making it easy for the affected person to get infections. It is however possible to have diabetes for a long time, but with no symptoms.

What is the treatment?

Type 1 diabetes is treated with lifelong insulin injections, in combination with an appropriate diet and exercise. Depending on the severity, type 2 is managed with weight loss and an appropriate diet, combined with oral medication and/or insulin. Constant monitoring is mandatory once someone is on treatment because very low glucose is as undesirable as very high glucose. Patients are advised to have their own monitoring devices at home, and to be aware of the symptoms of high and low blood glucose. Please contact your doctor if you suspect that you have diabetes or have a strong family history.

What is insulin?

There is an organ in the body called the pancreas. It is part of the digestive system, and it produces a few hormones and enzymes. One of the hormones it produces is called insulin, and its function is to control the level of glucose in the body. Without insulin, glucose accumulates in the body, which eventually leads to several conditions collectively called diabetes.

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The content in this communication is for information purposes and is not intended to be detailed advice, you should seek the advice of your physician or a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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