(selected facts from the World Health Organization)
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease caused by inherited and/or acquired deficiency in production of insulin by the pancreas, or by the ineffectiveness of the insulin produced. Such a deficiency results in increased concentrations of glucose in the blood, which in turn damage many of the body's systems, in particular the blood vessels and nerves.
There are two principle forms of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as insulin-dependent) in which the pancreas fails to produce the insulin which is essential for survival. This form develops most frequently in children and adolescents, but is being increasingly noted later in life.
Type 2 diabetes (formerly named non-insulin-dependent) which results from the body's inability to respond properly to the action of insulin produced by the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is much more common and accounts for around 90% of all diabetes cases worldwide. It occurs most frequently in adults, but is being noted increasingly in adolescents as well.
People with Type 1 diabetes are usually totally dependent on insulin injections for survival. Such people require daily administration of insulin. The majority of people suffering from diabetes have the Type 2 form. Although they do not depend on insulin for survival, about one third of sufferers needs insulin for reducing their blood glucose levels.
About 40% of diabetes sufferers require oral agents for satisfactory blood glucose control, and some 40% need insulin injections.
Complications associated with diabetes
Diabetic neuropathy is probably the most common complication of diabetes. Studies suggest that up to 50% of people with diabetes are affected to some degree. Major risk factors of this condition are the level and duration of elevated blood glucose. Neuropathy can lead to sensory loss and damage to the limbs. It is also a major cause of impotence.
Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness and visual disability. Diabetes mellitus is associated with damage to the small blood vessels in the retina, resulting in loss of vision. Findings, consistent from study to study, make it possible to suggest that, after 15 years of diabetes, approximately 2% of people become blind, while about 10% develop severe visual handicap. Loss of vision due to certain types of glaucoma and cataract may also be more common in people with diabetes than in those without the disease.
Diabetes is among the leading causes of kidney failure, but its frequency varies between populations and is also related to the severity and duration of the disease.
Heart disease accounts for approximately 50% of all deaths among people with diabetes in industrialized countries. Risk factors for heart disease in people with diabetes include smoking, high blood pressure, high serum cholesterol and obesity. Diabetes negates the protection from heart disease which pre-menopausal women without diabetes experience.