The ABCs of Diabetes Mellitus

Manila Bulletin, January 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

The ABCs of Diabetes Mellitus


Q. My father died a year ago because of diabetes which completely damaged his kidneys. He was diagnosed with the disease in 2007. He was given medicines for his blood sugar but he took them irregularly.  Is diabetes an inherited disease?  What are the initial symptoms of diabetes? Is it caused by eating or drinking too much sweet foods such as softdrinks, chocolotes or ice cream?—kareen c@yahoo.comA. Let me answer your last question first because it deals with a very common misconception among laymen. Diabetes mellitus is not caused by eating too much sugar. The persistently high blood sugar level that characterizes diabetes is the result—and not the cause—of the disease. Diabetes mellitus is caused either by the failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin or inability of the cells of the body to respond appropriately to insulin, or both. Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose (sugar) in blood to enter the cells of the body. The cells utilize glucose as their main energy source for their various metabolic activities. In diabetes, glucose is unable to enter the cells thus it builds up in blood while at the same time, the cells literally starve.  There are two main types of diabetes mellitus, type 1 & type 2, but several other rare types exist including gestational diabetes mellitus that occurs during pregnancy. In gestational diabetes, the metabolic abnormality usually disappears after delivery although women who had this condition are at a higher risk (30 to 60 percent) of developing diabetes later in life. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about five to 10 percent of all cases of diabetes. It is an autoimmune disease that develops when the body’s defense system (immune system) against infection and other foreign substances turns awry and attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It is still unknown what induces the immune system to attack the cells of the pancreas but genetic and environmental factors (like viruses) probably play a role. Type 1 diabetes usually arises in childhood or early adulthood. …

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