The two major forms of diabetes are type 1, previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile-onset diabetes, and type 2, previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or maturity-onset diabetes.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes share one central feature: elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels due to absolute or relative insufficiencies of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin is a key regulator of the body's metabolism. It works in the following way:
- During and immediately after a meal, digestion breaks carbohydrates down into sugar molecules (of which glucose is one) and proteins into amino acids.
- Right after the meal, glucose and amino acids are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, and blood glucose levels rise sharply. (Glucose levels after a meal are called postprandial levels.)
- The rise in blood glucose levels signals important cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, to secrete insulin, which pours into the bloodstream. Within 20 minutes after a meal insulin rises to its peak level.
- Insulin enables glucose to enter cells in the body, particularly muscle and liver cells. Here, insulin and other hormones direct whether glucose will be burned for energy or stored for future use.
- When insulin levels are high, the liver stops producing glucose and stores it in other forms until the body needs it again.
- As blood glucose levels reach their peak, the pancreas reduces the production of insulin.
- About 2 - 4 hours after a meal both blood glucose and insulin are at low levels, with insulin being slightly higher. The blood glucose levels are then referred to as fasting blood glucose concentrations.
The pancreas is located behind the liver and stomach. In addition to secreting digestive enzymes, the pancreas secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. The release of insulin into the blood lowers the level of blood glucose (simple sugars from food) by enhancing glucose to enter the body cells, where it is metabolized. If blood glucose levels get too low, the pancreas secretes glucagon to stimulate the release of glucose from the liver.
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin. Onset is usually in childhood or adolescence. Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disorder that involves:
- Beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are gradually destroyed. Eventually insulin deficiency is absolute.
- Without insulin to move glucose into cells, blood glucose levels become excessively high, a condition known as hyperglycemia.
- Because the body cannot utilize the sugar, it spills over into the urine and is lost.
- Weakness, weight loss, frequent urination, and excessive hunger and thirst are among the initial symptoms.
- Patients with type 1 diabetes need to take daily insulin for survival.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90 - 95% of cases. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not respond properly to insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance.
Gestational diabetes is a form of type 2 diabetes, usually temporary, that appears during pregnancy. It usually develops during the third trimester of pregnancy. After delivery, blood sugar (glucose) levels generally return to normal, although some women go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is not the same as the situation for women who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes before their pregnancy.