Before we run along defining diabetes mellitus lets understand what we mean when we say a disease or a condition is a “silent killer”.
A silent killer disease is one that causes such changes in the body that is considered minimal or almost unnoticeable, these changes are the ones we can easily adapt to and assume is nothing serious but over time they accumulate and develop to a stage of decompensation i.e. a stage where we can no longer adapt, this stage of decompensation is expensive and difficult to control and eventually leads to death. Diabetes mellitus is one of many several diseases that can eat away our lives slowly without us knowing.
What is diabetes mellitus? To fully understand what diabetes mellitus is we need to understand the normal human anatomy and physiology. We’ll be looking at an organ called the pancreas (located in the abdomen and produces a substance called insulin) and a nutrient called glucose ,a product of the popular carbohydrate or sugar, majorly found in foods like bread, rice and beans (yes! beans contains a high amount of carbohydrate, though a good source of protein too)).
When we eat carbohydrate or sugar rich food, they are broken down in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) into glucose, glucose is then transported through the intestine into the blood, at this point the pancreas is signaled and it releases insulin, insulin causes the movement or uptake of glucose into the cell where it is required for energy production to run different metabolic processes.
Now that we understand the interrelationship between glucose and insulin we can go ahead and define diabetes mellitus as a metabolic disorder or a clinical syndrome caused by relative or absolute deficiency of insulin and characterized by disorder of carbohydrate, lipid and protein metabolism. Simply put, in the event of lack of insulin or lack of response of the cells to insulin there is disorder of nutrition affecting not only but majorly glucose metabolism along with other nutrients, this leads to a series of clinical signs and symptoms that we’ll discuss later.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) should not be confused with Diabetes Insipidus, a condition that occurs as a result of deficiency of a pituitary hormone called vasopressin (or anti diuretic hormone) that regulates kidney function.
From our definition we see “absolute and relative deficiency”, based on this we have two major types of diabetes mellitus.
1. Type 1 or insulin dependent diabetes mellitus
2. Type 2 or insulin resistant diabetes mellitus
There are other types i.e. gestational DM, drug induced DM, infection induced DM etc. But for the sake of simplicity we’ll stick to the two major types above.
So what exactly happens when one gets diabetes mellitus, the pancreas stops producing enough insulin in response to increase blood glucose as in the case of type 1 diabetes mellitus or the pancreas actually does produce enough insulin but the insulin receptors on the cells are not responsive to it as in type 2 diabetes mellitus, this leads to an accumulation of glucose in the blood also known as increased blood sugar, the excess glucose will be passed out in the urine this leads to a condition known as polyuria because glucose pulls water along with it.
Polyuria is increased urine production in excess of normal. Polyuria leads to polydipsia; this is excessive water drinking due to increased thirst. Also as we understand, glucose is a source of energy for the cells;in diabetes mellitus these cells are not getting the required glucose therefore the patient will feel very hungry despite eating a lot (polyphagia), the patient will also feel very tired and fatigued. Over time the patient starts getting fungal infection especially around the fingers and toes, wounds tend to heal slowly and poorly, vision gets blurry and in case of type 1 diabetes mellitus there may be unplanned weight loss. Slowly, nervous and cardiovascular complications develop.
If you start to feel unusually tired, unusually thirsty and urinating a lot, you should see a doctor. Diabetes mellitus, though not curable, can be well managed and even prevented. When you see a doctor he will ask a couple of question pertaining to your lifestyle and history and do some tests, these tests include checking your blood for glucose levels. If your blood glucose level is high he will recommend some lifestyle changes , you may be advised to exercise more often, modify your diet, quit alcohol consumption and smoking. At higher glucose levels, some drugs that will help control your blood sugar level may also be recommended depending on the type of diabetes mellitus.
Keeping the blood sugar at a targeted range will prevent complications of diabetes mellitus from occurring. You can also monitor your blood sugar personally using a glucometer.
Prevention of diabetes mellitus all together is important especially if you have a relative with the disease; it is quite easy and majorly just requires:
1. Living a more active lifestyle, mild exercises like jogging or walking as much as 3-5times per week for 30 to 45 minutes
2. Eat healthy balanced diet: eat more fibers and whole grain and stay away from fast food and food that causes sudden spike in blood sugar.
3. Avoid habits like drinking alcohol and smoking.
4. Lose any extra weight.
5. Go for regular checkups.