There are two major types of diabetes, called type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes was also formerly called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), or juvenile-onset diabetes mellitus. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas undergoes an autoimmune attack by the body itself, and is rendered incapable of making insulin. Abnormal antibodies have been found in the majority of patients with type 1 diabetes. Antibodies are proteins in the blood that are part of the body's immune system. The patient with type 1 diabetes must rely on insulin medication for survival.
I am very excited by the closed-loop artificial pancreas trial which is now in its final stages. Professor Roman Hovorka at the University of Cambridge is currently perfecting an algorithm that enables a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump to talk to each other, and take over the delivery of insulin throughout the day and night, to keep glucose levels in range.
Nerve damage from diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy and is also caused by disease of small blood vessels. In essence, the blood flow to the nerves is limited, leaving the nerves without blood flow, and they get damaged or die as a result (a term known as ischemia). Symptoms of diabetic nerve damage include numbness, burning, and aching of the feet and lower extremities. When the nerve disease causes a complete loss of sensation in the feet, patients may not be aware of injuries to the feet, and fail to properly protect them. Shoes or other protection should be worn as much as possible. Seemingly minor skin injuries should be attended to promptly to avoid serious infections. Because of poor blood circulation, diabetic foot injuries may not heal. Sometimes, minor foot injuries can lead to serious infection, ulcers, and even gangrene, necessitating surgical amputation of toes, feet, and other infected parts.
The same thing applies to the chronic back and leg pain so many people have. There may be a few pain signals coming up from tired muscles or joints toward the brain. Those signals go through nerve centers called “pain gates.” Those “gates” are where the signals are mixed with other sense data, feelings, and body states such as tension. In people with chronic pain, the gates amplify the signals over and over until the pain is severe. They do this because the brain thinks the person needs to be warned away from a real threat, such as taking a hand out of the fire so it doesn’t burn.
Ariana Shakibinia decided to study public health in large part because she lives with T1D. She had always been interested in public policy, but she says living with this disease has made her more vested in the healthcare conversation. “I am living with what is essentially a pre-existing condition. I’m fortunate enough to have good health insurance, but it makes the potential financial burden of T1D management much more visible and relatable.”