Believe it or not, there are two different types of diabetes. The two types of diabetes, are insulin-dependent and noninsulin-dependent. They are considered two different disorders. While the causes, short-term effects, and treatments for the two types differ, both can cause the same long-term health problems. Both types also affect the body's ability to use digested food for energy. Diabetes doesn't interfere with digestion, but it does prevent the body from using an important product of digestion, glucose, or sugar, for energy.
After a meal the digestive system breaks some food down into glucose. The blood carries the glucose or sugar throughout the body, causing blood glucose levels to rise. In response to this rise the hormone insulin is released into the bloodstream to signal the body tissues to metabolize or burn the glucose for fuel, causing blood glucose levels to return to normal. A gland called the pancreas, found just behind the stomach, makes insulin. Glucose that the body doesn't use right away goes to the liver, muscles or fat for storage.
In someone with diabetes, this process doesn't work properly. In people with insulin-dependent diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin. This condition usually begins in childhood and is also known as type I (formerly called juvenile-onset) diabetes. People with this kind of diabetes must have daily insulin injections for the rest of their lives in order to survive.
In people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes the pancreas usually produces some insulin, but the body's tissue doesn't respond very well to the insulin signal and, therefore, doesn't metabolize the glucose properly. This condition is known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is an important factor in noninsulin-dependent diabetes.
The goals of diabetes treatment are to keep blood glucose within normal range and to prevent long-term complications.
Why control blood glucose? In the first place, diabetes can cause short-term effects: some are unpleasant and some are dangerous. These include thirst, frequent urination, weakness, lack of ability to concentrate, loss of coordination, and blurred vision. Loss of consciousness is possible with very high or low blood sugar levels, but is more of a danger in insulin-dependent than in noninsulin-dependent diabetes.
In the second place, the long-term complications of diabetes may result from many years of high blood glucose. Research is under way to find out if this is true and to learn if careful control can help prevent complications. Meanwhile, most doctors feel that if people with diabetes keep their blood glucose levels under control, they will reduce the risk of complications.
In 1986, a National Institutes of Health panel of experts recommended that the best treatment for noninsulin-dependent diabetes is a diet that helps the person maintain normal weight. In people who are overweight, losing weight is the one treatment that is clearly effective in controlling diabetes. However, controlling insulin dependent diabetes is a bit different than noninsulin-dependent. Although proper diet and exercise is effective for controlling both types of diabetes, with insulin dependent diabetes daily insulin injections are required.
As of today, there is no known cure for diabetes; daily treatment must continue throughout a person's lifetime. Knowing which type of diabetes you have is the first step in determining the treatment that is right for you.