ACLS library: Diabetes guide - symptoms, causes, treatment

ACLS library: Diabetes guide - symptoms, causes, treatment

Ahmed Raza

Diabetes is a disease that is characterized by abnormally high blood sugar (glucose) levels and commonly affects 7.8% of the population.

The disorder occurs for two different reasons: either the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin, or the body does not use insulin efficiently to maintain blood sugar levels.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas. The primary function of this hormone is to use glucose from digested food as a source of energy.

Classification of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is primarily an autoimmune condition manifesting in children and young adults. These people do not produce insulin; they require routine injections of insulin to aid in glucose metabolism. Without insulin injections, type 1 diabetics cannot use the sugar in their blood for energy.

People with type 2 diabetes produce small amounts of insulin, or they cannot properly use the insulin hormone, also known as insulin resistance. This condition usually develops later in life. Many people with type 2 diabetes use diet, exercise, and other non-insulin medications. Some type 2 diabetics, however, may require supplemental insulin.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia

Signs & symptoms Hyperglycemia Hypoglycemia
Onset Gradual, slow Quick
Signs & symptoms Thirst, nausea, symptoms of dehydration, excessive urination, possible abdominal pain, dry mouth Hunger, weakness, headache, trembling, numbness in hands and feet, unsteady gait
Response Restless, aggressive, gradual loss of consciousness Restless, aggressive, irritable, drowsy, confusion
Breathing Rapid and deep, sighing breaths, possible sweet odor Normal to rapid, odorless
Circulation Tachycardia, rapid weak pulse, warm-dry skin Rapid, weak pulse, pale-clammy skin

Understanding diabetes

Every cell in the body requires glucose as a foundation of energy. People with diabetes, though needing glucose, cannot process, or metabolize, it efficiently because the pancreas is either producing too little insulin or none at all—either way, glucose can accumulate to dangerously high levels.

A healthy pancreas regulates the production of the insulin hormone proportionate to the amount of glucose in the blood. When food is digested in the intestine, sugar molecules are directly absorbed into the bloodstream, and the blood glucose level rises. The increase in blood glucose signals the beta cells in the pancreas to secrete insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin then allows glucose to enter into the body cells to be used for energy or stored.

In the case of type 1 diabetes, beta cells of the pancreas release little or no insulin. In the absence of the hormone, the sugar molecules in the bloodstream don’t enter the body cells, and as a result, the blood glucose level rises. The body fails to use glucose for energy even though there is an increased sugar level in the bloodstream.

On the other hand, type 2 diabetes usually occurs due to obesity or being overweight and frequently develops in older people. The pancreas produces insulin, but the body fails to use it effectively. In type 2 diabetes, insulin does not access fat and muscle cells. As a consequence, glucose cannot enter into these cells to release energy. This leads to hyperglycemia or a high level of blood glucose.

Risk factors for diabetes

There are several risk factors associated with diabetes. However, they differ significantly in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Some of the risk factors related to type 1 diabetes include genetic predisposition, family history of autoimmune disease, child of an older mother, and lack of breastfeeding.

In contrast, type 2 diabetes risk factors include a family history of diabetes, middle age, obesity, high cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and depression.

Treatment and management of diabetes

Individuals who have diabetes can improve their condition by making some lifestyle changes. Some of the lifestyle changes include diet, exercise, and more.

Diabetes resources

Diabetes overview: Comprehensive information on diabetes including what is diabetes, types of diabetes, who gets diabetes, and how diabetes is managed, among others.

Diet and diabetes: Valuable information on diet and diabetes including goals of diabetes management, major nutrient recommendations, and methods for planning diet.

Written by on Apr 10, 2017

Sarah has worked in various roles at Coffee Medical Center including nurse, education director, and quality assurance director.

Last reviewed and updated by on Apr 4, 2020

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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