Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or when cells stop responding to the insulin that is produced, so that glucose in the blood cannot be absorbed into the cells of the body. Symptoms include frequent urination, tiredness, excessive thirst, and hunger.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that causes serious health complications including renal (kidney) failure, heart disease, stroke, and blindness. Approximately 14 million Americans (about 5% of the population) have diabetes. Unfortunately, as many as one-half of them are unaware that they have it.
Every cell in the human body needs energy in order to function. The body's primary energy source is glucose, a simple sugar resulting from the digestion of foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Glucose from the digested food circulates in the blood as a ready energy source for cells. Insulin is a hormone or chemical produced by cells in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach. Insulin binds to receptor sites on the outside of cells and acts like a key to open a door-way
into the cell through which glucose can enter. Some of the glucose can be converted to concentrated energy sources like glycogen or fatty acids and saved for later use. When there is not enough insulin produced or when the doorway no longer recognizes the insulin key, glucose stays in the blood instead of entering the cells.
The body will attempt to dilute the high level of glucose in the blood, a condition called hyperglycemia, by drawing water out of the cells and into the bloodstream. The excess sugar is excreted in the urine. It is not unusual for people with undiagnosed diabetes to be constantly thirsty, to drink large quantities of water, and to urinate frequently as their bodies try to get rid of the extra glucose. This creates high levels of glucose in the urine.
At the same time that the body is trying to get rid of glucose from the blood, the cells are starving for glucose and sending signals to the body to eat more food, thus making patients extremely hungry. To provide energy for the starving cells, the body also tries to convert fats and proteins to glucose. The breakdown of fats and proteins for energy causes acid compounds called ketones to form in the blood. Ketones also will be excreted in the urine. As ketones build up in the blood, a condition called ketoacidosis can occur. If left untreated, ketoacidosis can lead to coma and death.
Belinda Rowland, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,