Around 75% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes mellitus. This was earlier termed non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or maturity-onset diabetes mellitus. The number of people with type 2 diabetes is rapidly increasing. In type 2 diabetes, not enough insulin is produced or the insulin that is made by the body is insufficient to meet the needs of the body. Obesity or being overweight predisposes to type 2 diabetes.
"There have been cases where patients were treated with insulin for years until they discovered it was a rare genetic variant" of MODY, Roep told Live Science. Those people are no longer diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes, and they may be able to manage their blood sugar levels with either oral drugs or diet and exercise changes, "but that would not be the same as being cured," Roep said.
Exposure to certain viral infections (mumps and Coxsackie viruses) or other environmental toxins may serve to trigger abnormal antibody responses that cause damage to the pancreas cells where insulin is made. Some of the antibodies seen in type 1 diabetes include anti-islet cell antibodies, anti-insulin antibodies and anti-glutamic decarboxylase antibodies. These antibodies can be detected in the majority of patients, and may help determine which individuals are at risk for developing type 1 diabetes.
While there is a strong genetic component to developing this form of diabetes, there are other risk factors - the most significant of which is obesity. There is a direct relationship between the degree of obesity and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and this holds true in children as well as adults. It is estimated that the chance to develop diabetes doubles for every 20% increase over desirable body weight.
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"You only need 10 percent of your beta cells to supply sufficient insulin," Roep said. He said there have been a couple of rare cases where a patient had typical type 1 diabetes but could go through long periods without insulin injections. "Insulin needs can be a moving target, and if you have a lifestyle change it's very plausible that you have a lesser need for insulin, and you can deal with [diabetes] with the beta cells you have," Roep said.
Glucagon is a hormone that causes the release of glucose from the liver (for example, it promotes gluconeogenesis). Glucagon can be lifesaving and every patient with diabetes who has a history of hypoglycemia (particularly those on insulin) should have a glucagon kit. Families and friends of those with diabetes need to be taught how to administer glucagon, since obviously the patients will not be able to do it themselves in an emergency situation. Another lifesaving device that should be mentioned is very simple; a medic-alert bracelet should be worn by all patients with diabetes.