Biology for Kids
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that causes a person to have high blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can damage organs such as the kidneys and heart. Nerve and blood vessel damage can lead to blindness and even the need for amputation of extremities such as the toes.
High blood sugar is a result of the body not getting enough insulin or not responding to the insulin it is getting.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced by an organ called the pancreas. Insulin takes the sugar in our blood (also called glucose) and helps it get absorbed into our cells. Our cells then use the glucose for energy.
Why is insulin important?
When there isn't enough insulin in the blood two things happen. First, the glucose level in the blood increases. As the body continues to eat food, carbohydrates are turned into glucose and absorbed into the blood stream to be used for energy. If there is no insulin, the glucose can't be absorbed by the cells and used up. Second, the cells are starved of energy. They end up getting their energy from fat.
Type I or Juvenile Diabetes
Type I diabetes is caused when the body's own immune system decides to attack the pancreas and destroy the cells (called beta cells) that make insulin. Doctors aren't sure what causes the immune system to do this, but, once all the beta cells are destroyed, the pancreas will stop producing insulin.
Type I diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes. This is because most people are first diagnosed with the disease while they are still young. However, some people do get the disease later in life. Also, once a person has the disease they will have it for their entire life. There is no cure.
Type II diabetes is when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin for the body or that the insulin isn't working right. When the insulin isn't working right, this is called "insulin resistance."
Type II diabetes is different than Type I. Type II tends to occur in older people who are overweight. Losing weight, eating a healthier diet, and exercising can all help in avoiding and slowing down the onset of Type II.
Although Type II is associated with being overweight, not all people who are overweight get Type II and not all people who have Type II are overweight. Doctors aren't sure what causes Type II diabetes, but in addition to weight, factors such as race, age, and family history also contribute to the risk of getting the disease.
Common symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, bad breath, and nausea. Not everyone who has diabetes will show symptoms right away, especially those with Type II.
Living with Diabetes
Although diabetes (especially Type I) can cause death if untreated, people are able to live long and normal lives with the disease. The key to living with diabetes is monitoring and controlling the body's blood sugar level. Some people with Type II can control the disease through exercise and a healthy diet. Others may need to take pills or inject insulin. Since people with Type I diabetes produce no insulin they have to inject insulin on a regular basis.
An Example of Type I Treatment
A person who has Type I diabetes will typically go through this routine every time they have a meal.
- Test their blood sugar - This is done by pricking their finger and testing their blood with a blood sugar tester.
- Count the carbohydrates in their meal - They need to know how many carbohydrates they ate to adjust their insulin dose.
- Inject insulin - They then inject a certain amount of insulin based on how many carbohydrates they ate and their current blood sugar.
- Insulin was discovered by Dr. Frederick Banting and John Macleod in 1921. Prior to this, diabetes was a fatal disease.
- The first person to receive an insulin injection was a fourteen year-old boy in 1922.
- Many people are able to use insulin pumps to automatically deliver insulin. They still have to test their blood sugar and give the pump instructions, but they don't have to have shots all the time.
- Macleod and Banting won the Nobel Prize in 1923 for their discovery.
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*** This page is not to be used as medical advice in any way. Please immediately consult your doctor if you have medical concerns.
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