Diabetes 101

Diabetes is a lifetime illness that causes many life-threatening complications. We are working toward helping diabetics live longer, healthier lives through islet cell transplantation.

Diabetes is a chronic disease marked by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. It occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. Insulin is a hormone central to regulating carbohydrate and fat metabolism in the body. It is produced by islet cells in the pancreas.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease usually appearing in childhood, but can occur at any age. Classic symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst, urination and hunger, weight loss and blurred vision. Complications of diabetes are blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, amputation of limbs, heart attack and stroke.

Type 1 diabetes strikes five to ten percent of all diabetics. Originally named juvenile diabetes, this form predominantly strikes children and young adults. Type 1 develops when the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, mistaking these vital cells as invaders. In order to survive, people with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the pancreas does not make enough insulin or use it efficiently. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form for the disease, affecting nearly 90 to 95 percent of all diabetics. This type occurs when the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or when the cells ignore the insulin. This type is generally associated with obesity. While Type 2 diabetes is primarily seen in adults, its incidence is rising in children. Treatments for type 2 diabetes include exercise, a healthy diet, pills, and insulin injections.

Hypoglycemia unawareness

Some patients with diabetes develop a complication called hypoglycemic unawareness. Normally, hypoglycemic episodes are accompanied by symptoms like tremors, sweating and palpitations, but when hypoglycemia occurs in the absence of such symptoms it is called hypoglycemic unawareness. People with long-standing Type 1 diabetes and those who attempt to maintain glucose levels which are closer to normal, are more likely to experience hypoglycemic unawareness. Also, If a person has frequent episodes of hypoglycemia, the brain becomes “used to” the low glucose and no longer signals for adrenalin to be released during such times.

Hypoglycemia unawareness occurs in 17 percent of those with Type 1 diabetes. Hypoglycemia unawareness can result in seizure, loss of consciousness, or brain damage.

Insulin is a Treatment, not a Cure

Without insulin injections, many diabetics would not survive. Blood glucose monitoring and insulin injections have allowed many people with this condition to live full, productive lives.
But unfortunately, precisely controlling glucose levels with injected insulin is difficult. If insulin levels are too high, blood glucose levels fall. This may lead to immediate reactions such as confusion, loss of consciousness, or even death.

If insulin is too low, blood glucose levels rise to alarming levels. This may cause damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart. Most diabetics need to keep blood sugar levels high to avoid the life threatening risks of low blood sugar.

Insulin may be the frontline for diabetes treatment, but it is not a cure. Insulin treatment involves daily blood sugar monitoring, daily injections or an insulin pump, food monitoring, and the continuous potential for complications. A cure for diabetes would restore the body’s ability to precisely respond to fluctuating glucose levels in the blood stream.

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