Diabetes: Don't Let It Kill You
Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FAAEM
Medical Editors: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Diabetesis pretty easy to understand. The body needs glucose (or sugar) as a power source for metabolism. Insulin, a molecule made in the pancreas, acts as a key to open cell doors and allow glucose to enter cells from the bloodstream and allow the necessary power generation to happen. In healthy people, the pancreas can help regulate blood sugar levels and make certain that cells get the energy source they need. In people with diabetes, the system doesn't work; either the pancreas doesn't make any insulin, doesn't make enough insulin, or makes insulin that isn't effective. This causes blood sugar levels to rise, cells to malfunction, and the body to break down.
The treatment of diabetes is theoretically easy. Balance the glucose intake in the diet with the amount of energy the body needs to do its chores, and then add medications by mouth or insulin injections to make it all happen. Reality isn't that easy, and for many people, poorly controlled diabetes leads to problems years later. Small blood vessels start to become narrow and fragile. Organs lose blood supply and begin to fail, slowly at first, but then life-threatening events can occur. Heart attacks, kidney failure, poor circulation in the feet(sometimes requiring amputation), and blindness are just some of the effects of blood sugar levels that remain chronically too high.