Diabetes mellitus or simply diabetes is a major health and social problem of the humanity due to the high prevalence, chronic and incurable course of the disease and possible life-threatening complications. In terms of the importance, The World Health Organization puts diabetes together with a number of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Diabetes is not a new disease and it is caused by the so-called “defects of the civilization.” This disease was known about 3,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt. The mentions of “sugar disease” can be found in ancient medical treatises of India, China, Greece and Rome. Up to 180 millions of people in the world suffer from it, which accounts for 2.3% of the total population of the planet. Moreover, the number of patients is expected to double every 15 years. Millions of people suffer from undiagnosed forms of diabetes or can be predisposed to the disease as their relatives are suffering from diabetes (Phelps & Hassed, 2012).
All these facts make it clear that diabetes has become one of the major problems of the modern society and, therefore, contribute to the relevance of the following research. The objective of current work is the study of the specifics of diabetes, its types, causes and side effects, as well as the definition of the ways of monitoring and controlling the disease.
Diabetes is a group of endocrine diseases that develop due to the lack of hormone insulin or violation of its interaction with cells of the body, which is detrimental to humans. Insulin is a protein hormone formed by pancreas that makes the cell membrane of the blood vessels more permeable to glucose uptake. It also provides anabolism (a set of chemical processes in the body, focusing on the formation and renewal of the structural particles of cells and tissues) and energy storage. Diabetes is an excess of sugar in the body (blood glucose) as a consequence of the lack of insulin, which leads to disturbances of carbohydrate, fat, protein, mineral and water-salt metabolism. Thus, diabetes (sugar disease) is one of the most common metabolic diseases that results in the reduced ability of the human body to metabolize carbohydrates. It is found that a violation of carbohydrate metabolism, in turn, entails a change in other metabolic processes, which negatively affects the whole organism (Phelps & Hassed, 2012).
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However, the studies of the last decades have proved that diabetes sometimes develops under the conditions of normal or even elevated insulin levels, when the hormone cannot be properly absorbed by the body (Phelps & Hassed, 2012). As a result, it is possible to define the three main types of diabetes, which emerge due to different reasons:
- Insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes can develop at any age, but it most often affects the young people (children, adolescents, adults younger than 30 years), so it is sometimes called “juvenile diabetes.” It is characterized by the absolute insulin deficiency caused by the disruption of the pancreas. The exact causes of type 1 diabetes are currently unknown. However, the relationship between the disease and a variety of genes (both recessive and dominant) has been proved. For example, the likelihood of the development of type 1 diabetes increases by 4-10% if one of the parents suffers from this disease (Levy, 2011);
- Non insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes is characterized by the relative insulin deficiency. In this case, cells of the pancreas produce enough insulin (sometimes even an increased amount). However, the number of structures that provide its contact with the cells and help transfer the glucose to the cell from the blood is reduced. The deficiency of glucose in the cells is a signal for the production of even more insulin, but since it has no effect the insulin production significantly reduces. Type 2 diabetes includes about 85-90% of all cases of the illness and most often affects the people older than 40 years. It is caused by a set of genetic and life factors, but obesity is one of the most serious of them. For example, the vast majority of people suffering from this type of disease are overweight. The other causes include the diseases of the pancreas, viral infections, stress and age (Barnett, 2011);
- Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, developing at 2-14% of women. During the pregnancy a woman’s body has to produce more insulin to accommodate the needs of the baby – it is especially true for the second half of pregnancy. However, if the pancreas is unable to cope with the growing requirements of the organism, the blood sugar level becomes higher than normal, which may result in gestational diabetes. Its distinctive feature is that it usually resolves by itself after the pregnancy, in contrast to the other types of diabetes which are chronic diseases (Phelps & Hassed, 2012).
By itself, diabetes is not a very dangerous disease, but its side effects and complications always have a negative, sometimes irreversible effect on the human body. First of all, diabetes primarily affects the heart and blood vessels. Approximately 65% of deaths from diabetes occur due to a heart attack or stroke. Damage to blood vessels or nerves can also lead to diseases of the feet, gangrene and amputation. Diabetes has a particularly strong effect on the nerves of the limbs. It leads to the condition when the arms and legs lose sensitivity. Damage to the nervous system can cause pain in the legs, arms and may lead to digestive and gastrointestinal disorders and the dysfunction of the sex glands. Diabetes is also one of the major reasons of blindness and eye diseases, such as glaucoma and cataracts. Moreover, the increased blood density due to the high level of sugar is the main cause of kidney failure. Finally, people with diabetes are at risk of periodontitis and tooth loss (Shaw & Cummings, 2011). In this case, all of the treatment methods of these pathologies will be ineffective if the underlying cause – the increased blood sugar level – is not addressed.