Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a group of metabolic diseases characterized by hyperglycemia resulting from defects of insulin secretion and/or increased cellular resistance to insulin. Type 1 diabetes mellitus results from destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas which accounts for about 10% of all diabetics in the United States. This can lead to absolute insulin deficiency. Type 1 DM can occur at any age, but is more common in people less than 30 years old. Type 2 diabetes mellitus is the most common form worldwide and the prevalence is increasing. It accounts for approximately 90% of all cases of DM in the United States and occurs more frequently in adults than in children. The incidence for type 2 increases with age, especially after age 40. Ultimately, the loss of beta cell mass can lead to insulin dependency. The third type of diabetes is gestational DM, which is any degree of glucose intolerance with onset or first diagnosis during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed during the second or third trimester. It occurs in approximately 4 % of all pregnancies or 135,000 cases annually. Glucose tolerance usually returns to normal within 6 weeks after pregnancy ends and most women do not develop DM later in life.
Patients with diabetes can experience symptoms including polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (excessive thirst), increased hunger, unexplained weight loss, tiredness, a tingling sensation or numbness in the hand or feet, and blurred vision, especially after a big meal. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, then a visit to your medical doctor is highly recommended. A diagnosis of diabetes can be made based on a patient’s blood glucose levels taken by his or her doctor.
Since diabetes mellitus is the leading cause of death, disability, and blindness in the United States for people between the ages 20-74, it is important to see your primary care physician. In addition to getting a physical, an eye exam is equally important because it can identify patients with undiagnosed diabetes. Approximately 80% of blindness in this age group is related to diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is when the blood vessels in the retina are damaged and fluid, protein, and/or blood is leaked. At least 50,000 Americans are legally blind from this condition. Early referral for eye care and appropriate and timely intervention lessen the risk for, and severity of, vision loss related to diabetes.
November is National Diabetic Awareness Month. If you are a diabetic or know anyone who is diabetic, please encourage them get a yearly comprehensive dilated eye exam.