Diabetes: A Syndrome, Not A Single Disease


Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, affects more than 60 million people worldwide and is declared as the biggest epidemic of the 21st century. This number has significantly gone up in the last few decades, and it is only set to increase further. While America and Europe had the greatest number of diabetics a couple of decades earlier, India is now declared as the diabetic capital of the world.


What was first a simple condition with increased sugar levels has now become a metabolic syndrome and a lifestyle disease. In simple words, blood sugar levels are controlled by a hormone called insulin, and reduced levels of insulin cause increased sugar levels. 

There are two types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2

  1. The first one is insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) and is related to the hormone insulin. This is a hereditary condition.  
  2. However, the current day’s problem is due to type 2 diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). This is a total lifestyle-related, though heredity can be a risk factor.

Causes of Diabetes

Diabetes is now thought to be a chronic inflammatory condition and not just a problem with high sugar levels. While infections were the major medical problems some decades ago, now lifestyle diseases like diabetes are major health issues.  The major causes for this are:

  1. Changing lifestyles with refined and processed foods
  2. Increase in sugars and fats and reduced protein and fibers
  3. This is further complicated by a sedentary lifestyle where obesity is rampant.
  4. Fatty tissue makes the body less resistant to insulin, thereby adding to the sugar levels.
  5. Other risk factors for diabetes include stress, smoking, high blood pressure, pre existing heart disease, increased age, etc.

It is interesting to see that all these sets of factors can lead to one another.  The basic contributing factor is, however, a combination of poor eating habits and reduced activity.

Effects of Diabetes

Here’s how diabetes affects an individual:

  1. Diabetes also brings with it a host of conditions and affects almost all systems – circulatory, nervous, cardiac, kidney, and skin.
  2. It also is a risk factor for other health conditions including heart disease, renal failure, foot ulcers, poor vision, etc. 
  3. Studies show that it is the most common cause of blindness and is a major contributor to renal failure and leg amputations. This is because of the circulatory and vascular effects of diabetes on both major and minor blood vessels.
  4. It is estimated the life expectancy is reduced by a decade if diabetes is not well controlled.  Diabetes is caused by obesity and further aggravates it. It leads to heart diseases leading to stroke and heart attacks. Once diagnosed, optimal sugar level management along with regular health checks (eyes, feet, heart, kidneys) is essential for overall management.

With diabetes becoming an epidemic of this proportion, governments are aiming at preventive measures to create awareness and reduce the incidence of diabetes. The cost of managing diabetes and its associated complications poses a major global economic crisis.


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