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Diabetes is an extremely common condition in the United States that is is estimated to affect over 18 million individuals. However, some experts believe this figure may actually be far higher because many people might not seek treatment. Others may not even be aware that they have the disease. Diabetes is more likely to affect middle-aged people and the elderly, but any person can develop the disease at any age.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that prevents the body from properly producing or utilizing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for metabolizing carbohydrates into energy and keeping blood glucose within safe levels. When insulin is unable to do its job, blood glucose stays elevated, causing damage to nerves, organs and the cardiovascular system. Diabetes has several known causes, which can include diet, genetics, weight, environment, other health problems and the use of certain medications. However, some people develop diabetes for no identifiable reason, even when they seem otherwise healthy. It is also fairly common for people to have diabetes but experience no symptoms whatsoever.
Different Kinds of Diabetes
There are two variations of this disease: type 2 and type 1 diabetes. Although they have different causes, treatments and outcomes, the effects on the body are essentially the same.
Type 2 diabetes
is the most common variation and is most frequently associated with prolonged insulin resistance. Many other factors, like weight, diet, lifestyle habits, age, stress levels, medications and additional health issues may also trigger the disease. In type 2 diabetes, extended periods of high blood glucose cause the pancreas to over-produce insulin. Eventually, the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, called beta cells, wear out and are no longer able to produce sufficient quantities of the hormone. Many people with type 2 diabetes use prescribed insulin to control their symptoms, but this is not always necessary, especially when adhering to a healthy diet and exercise.
Type 1 Diabetes
is autoimmune in origin and is caused when the body attacks the pancreatic beta cells, destroying them and halting insulin production. It is also known as childhood or juvenile diabetes because most people who have the disease are born with it. Genetics are believed to play a role, but researchers are uncertain about the precise causes. Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes isn't restricted to children. It can also occur any time in adulthood, usually following a serious infectious illness. People with this form of diabetes are dependent on insulin injections for life and must take great care to monitor their blood glucose levels throughout the day.
Diabetes in either form can present many health challenges for the people who have it. Diabetics have two to four times the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. The disease is also the leading cause of blindness in people between 20 and 74 years old. Because of the havoc uncontrolled blood glucose wreaks on the body, organ damage is not uncommon. It's estimated that between ten and 20 percent of diabetics end up with diabetic nephropathy, a kidney disease that can eventually lead to kidney failure. Depending on the severity, these individuals may be dependent on regular dialysis to prevent kidney failure.
Because impaired blood glucose control can also cause damage to nerves and blood vessels, diabetics have a dramatically increased risk of requiring amputations of the lower extremities. Diminished blood flow to the feet and legs can become severe enough to cause necrosis (tissue death) through oxygen and nutrient deprivation. Meanwhile, nerve damage can cause a condition known as diabetic neuropathy, which causes pain, tingling and numbness in the affected areas. Statistical data shows that a staggering 82,000 amputations are performed each year due to diabetes-related nerve and blood vessel damage.
Unfortunately, any condition that negatively impacts blood circulation can also cause some degree of sexual problems, which present many special challenges of their own. This is considerably more likely to affect men than women. Indeed, approximately 21 percent of diabetic men struggle with erectile dysfunction. In both genders, diabetes is linked to an increased rate of infertility.
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