What is Diabetes?
Considered to be a chronic metabolic disease, diabetes occurs when your body is unable to effectively process sugars and starches from foods. In healthy patients, the digestive process breaks down food into glucose, which enters the blood and is transported via insulin—a hormone produced by the pancreas—to cells across the body where it is used as energy. For patients with diabetes, however, the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood remain elevated. This is commonly known as hyperglycemia.
There are three different types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes—patients with type 1 diabetes have pancreas that stops producing insulin due to damage or inactivity of insulin-producing cells. As a result, insulin injections are required on a daily basis in order to help maintain normal blood glucose levels.
- Type 2 diabetes—this type of diabetes occurs when cells are unable to respond to insulin and develop insulin resistance. As a result, blood retains high levels of glucose that isn't able to be broken down and used as energy.
- Gestational diabetes—pregnancy can sometimes cause patients to develop diabetes, which typically goes away once the baby is born. However, some patients with gestational diabetes may also develop an increased risk of type 2 diabetes later on in life.
If left untreated, diabetes can often result in the onset of other illnesses such as peripheral neuropathy, kidney disease, heart disease, and several foot-related disorders. Regular checkups with a podiatrist can help patients manage and, in some cases, even prevent the onset of diabetes.
What Are the Causes of Diabetes?
The CDC estimates that approximately 34 million US adults have diabetes, and over 88 million adults or 1 in 3 are pre-diabetic. Diabetes can occur for one of two reasons:
- the pancreas is unable to produce insulin
- insulin resistance develops in cells
Multiple factors can contribute to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These may involve dietary and lifestyle habits and can include:
- genetics can play a role in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- infections caused by viruses or bacteria can destroy insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas
- having excess belly fat—this has been linked to type 2 diabetes
- sedentary lifestyle
- genetic mutations such as cystic fibrosis and hemochromatosis can cause damage to the pancreas
- insulin resistance
- certain medications
- your ethnicity—African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous Americans are all at a higher risk for developing diabetes
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
Having too much blood glucose levels can cause patients with diabetes to experience the following symptoms:
- frequent urination
- blurred vision
- high blood pressure
- weight loss
- bladder infections
Diabetes can also play a significant role in damaging your feet. For patients with diabetes, monitor the following symptoms in your feet and ankles:
- tingling and numbness in toes
- open sores and ulcers on feet—diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy resulting in damage to the nerves and blood vessels. As a result, patients may not feel cuts or bruises on their feet, which, left untreated, can worsen over time
- discoloration of the skin on feet
- pain through either leg
- ingrown toenails
- cracks to the heels that are difficult to get rid of
- bleeding calluses
What to Expect During a Diabetic Diagnosis and Treatment Appointment
If you've never been diagnosed with diabetes, you might be wondering what to expect during your first appointment. A trained healthcare provider will conduct a comprehensive intake that includes your family history, diet, and lifestyle habits. From there, several different types of blood tests to determine your blood glucose levels may be conducted. These include:
- fasting blood glucose test
- hemoglobin A1C test
- oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)
Depending on your results and the severity of your symptoms, a treatment plan that's individual to you will be created. As a chronic disease, diabetes can affect various parts and organs of the body. As a result, treatment will involve routine checkups with several different doctors, including regular appointments with a podiatric physician to maintain your foot health. Proper foot care involves:
- daily inspection of feet, ankles, and toes for common diabetes symptoms
- regular exercise to improve circulation throughout the body, including the feet
- properly fitted shoes
- regular visits to deal with corns, blisters, and calluses.