Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin or the cells in the body stop responding to the insulin that is produced. Four types of the disease include type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, monogenic diabetes and gestational diabetes.
About the Disease
To understand the disease, one needs to know the roles of the pancreas and insulin plus the importance of glucose. Every cell in the human body requires energy to function.
Glucose is the primary source of energy. It is a simple sugar which results from the digestion of carbohydrates. Glucose circulates in the bloodstream as a ready source of energy.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which is an organ located behind the stomach. Insulin bonds to the receptor sites on the outside of a cell and acts as the key to allow glucose into the cell. When the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the cells no longer respond to insulin, glucose remains in the blood rather than entering the cells.
Type 1 diabetes was formerly known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes. It can occur at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s.
A rare form of diabetes mellitus called monogenic diabetes is often mistaken for type 1. With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells.
The beta cells are contained within small islands of endocrine cells called pancreatic islets. Normally, the beta cells produce insulin. When the beta cells are destroyed, no insulin can be produced.
As a result, glucose remains in the blood and can cause serious complications such as neurological damage, cardiovascular damage and renal failure. Individuals with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to stay alive.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause is unclear, but scientists continue to explore the involvement of the immune system, genetics and environmental factors. It is known that 40 percent of the United States population carries one or more of the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) genes, which leads to an increased risk of type 1 diabetes.