What is Diabetes?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes, also called as Diabetes Mellitus is a non communicable disease which is now being considered as a group of diseases rather than a single disease entity. There is a normal range of blood glucose or sugar in our body. Diabetes is characterised by a sustained state of increased glucose level in the body. The main cause of Diabetes is the defects in action or production of a hormone called Insulin. Insulin is normally produced by the “beta” cells of pancreas. Insulin is the key hormone that controls glucose metabolism in our body. Diabetes is a long term condition which affects multiple organs like Heart, Kidneys, Neurological system, and Eyes.

With an estimated 350 million diabetes patients worldwide, the disease is fast becoming one of the major health concerns around the world. There are two main types of Diabetes Mellitus and they are the Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

In 2008, about 1.2 million persons died due to the severe consequences of high blood glucose level.

Diabetes can be considered as a “new generation” disease and is becoming a social status symbol. The number of cases of diabetes has increased in the past few decades and this can be attributed to the unhealthy food habits and life styles. Diabetes is now counted as a leading risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. The number of patients who lose their lower limbs due to diabetes is also increasing at unbelievable rates. Diabetic Retinopathy is a condition which can lead to blindness if left untreated. Kidney failures owing to diabetes are yet another dangerous manifestation of increased blood sugar level.

Sedentary life style is one of the major risk factor behind developing diabetes. I have already expressed my views about sedentary life styles and the associated risks in an article. I recommend you to read that article as well. Apart from this, alcoholism, obesity, malnutrition, stress are some other risk factors which can lead to diabetes.

Types of Diabetes Mellitus

Type 1 diabetes or Insulin dependant diabetes mellitus is usually seen in young individuals below 30 years of age. It is a dangerous disease compared to the Type 2 diabetes and can be fatal if left untreated. Insulin deficiency is the hallmark of Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes or Non Insulin Dependant Diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and we will be focussing mainly on this type in this article. About 90% of the total diabetes cases in this world are Type 2 diabetes. Partial Insulin deficiency is the cause of type 2 diabetes.

The other types of diabetes includes :- Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (diabetes detected for the first time in pregnancy), Impaired Glucose Tolerance.

Causes of Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that can be labelled as multifactorial. Insulin deficiency is the root defect in diabetes mellitus and this can happen in a variety of conditions as listed below :-

1 : Pancreatic disorders like pancreatitis, pancreatic cancers, cystic fibrosis
2 : Defective Insulin hormone production
3 : Genetic diseases which leads to decreased production of Insulin

Symptoms of Diabetes

Diabetes is a silent disease to start with as the symptoms are usually mild and easy to ignore. Most persons do admit to remember such symptoms after the diagnosis has been made. Some of the characteristic symptoms of Diabetes include :

  • Increased frequency of urinating
  • Abnormally increased thirst
  • Feeling hunger even after a heavy meal
  • Tingling sensation at the extremities of limbs
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness, lack of interest in daily activities, loss of concentration
  • In addition to these symptoms, patients may also present at the hospital for the first time with symptoms associated with the complications of Diabetes. This is why testing for Diabetes is very important.

What are the Tests for Diabetes?

Testing for Diabetes is extremely important. This is because of the fact that early stages of diabetes have no symptoms. Patients get diagnosed with diabetes after random blood glucose level estimations. Early detection of diabetes is the only way to prevent the ugly complications of the disease. It also helps in reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with diabetes. There are many ways of testing for diabetes mellitus. The important tests which are usually employed these days include :

Urine Tests : Presence of high glucose level in urine samples can be used to diagnose diabetes.. However, glucose appears in urine samples only in advanced stages of the disease and milder forms or early stages of diabetes are usually missed by urine sample tests.

Blood Tests : The Oral Glucose Tolerance Tests, Fasting Blood Sugar tests, Post Prandial (two hour plasma glucose) tests and Glycosylated Haemoglobin or Hb A1C tests are the commonly used blood tests.

Normal fasting blood glucose value is : < 110 mg/dl or (<6.1 mmol/l)
Impaired Fasting Glucose level is 110 to 125 mg/dl (6.1 to 6.9 mmol/l)
Normal two hour plasma glucose level is < 140 mg/dl ( < 7.8 mmol/l)
Impaired two hour plasma glucose level is 140 to 200 mg/dl (7.8 to 11.1 mmol/l)
Normal Hb A1C level is < 5.7 % , Prediabetes stage is 5.7 to 6.4 % and Diabetes is 6.5 % or above

You may read this article to learn more about the different types of Blood Tests for Diabetes.

Prevention of Diabetes

Prevention is better than cure. Whenever I think of that phrase, diabetes is the first thing that comes to my mind. The advantages of prevention in case of diabetes are numerous. There are some easy things which we can do to prevent diabetes.

  • Try to maintain normal body weight,
  • Adopt healthy food habits,
  • Don’t sit idle, do some exercises,
  • Make a habit of eating high fibre diet,
  • Avoid sweet foods,
  • Say NO to alcoholism and smoking.


The main goal of Diabetes treatment is to maintain the blood glucose level at the normal range. This can be achieved in the following ways :-

Diet Alone : By controlling the diet, a person can maintain normal blood glucose levels. The diabetic diet is a huge topic and we will discuss it in a separate post. The basic principles of adopting a diabetic diet are to increase the consumption of fibres, reduce sweet foods, reduce the quantity of main meals, etc.

If you are Diabetic and wondering whether you can eat fruits without fear of shooting up your blood glucose level, read the article here.

Diet and oral anti diabetic drugs : There are several drugs available which reduce the blood glucose level by acting in different methods. Some of them stimulate the pancreas to secrete more insulin, others act by decreasing the absorption of glucose from the guts. A combination therapy of adopting diet control and taking these anti diabetic drugs have been very effective in treating diabetes.

insulin for diabetes

Diet and Insulin : Insulin produced by recombinant biotechniques are administered to the patients in order to supplement for their body deficiency of Insulin. Many forms of Insulin therapies are available. Patients can administer Insulin at their own homes. Insulin is also used in hospitals for rapid control of blood glucose levels before performing surgeries in diabetic patients. i will write more on Insulin therapy for Diabetes in another article.

Routine Diabetes Checkups

Diabetic patients needs to adhere to strict diet control measures and follow the drug or insulin regimen as instructed by the doctor. But this is usually not enough and in order to prevent the dangerous complications of diabetes from happening, they need to undergo periodic diabetic checkups. These should include :

Regular monitoring of blood glucose level from a laboratory or at home using a glucometer. Buying a glucometer like Accu-Chek or OneTouch for use at home or office should be encouraged.

Periodic vision testing to determine Diabetic Retinopathy. Consult your Ophthalmologist for further details.
Monitor your blood pressure levels. Keeping your blood pressure levels at normal range is very important for diabetic patients. The dangers of developing cardiovascular diseases is higher in diabetic patients with hypertension (high blood pressure).
Do periodic feet examination. Make sure the skin is intact and that no ulcers have formed yet. This also helps in early detection of Diabetic Neuropathy (diabetes effecting the peripheral nerves)


Diabetes is a silent disease to start with, but once it progresses it can lead to many morbid human conditions like blindness, heart attack, kidney failure, neuropathies etc. The only way to prevent diabetes is to adopt a healthy life style and food habits. There are several methods to detect Diabetes and I recommend you to check your blood glucose level just to be on the safer side. If by ill luck, you are diagnosed with Diabetes, there are treatment options available including diet control, anti diabetic drugs and Insulin therapy.
Diabetes is a vast topic. I have tried my level best to cover all the relevant information about Diabetes and explain it in a simple language. I hope this article was helpful and if you really liked it, don’t hesitate sharing it with your friends.

Image Credits – Victor and Alden Chadwick

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