What is Diabetes?


"Health Watch"

What is Diabetes?

*Dr. Anu Munshi-Khandhar, MD

You may know a relative or a friend who has diabetes or maybe you have or were recently diagnosed with it. There are so many questions that may pop into your head. Am I going to have this for the rest of my life? Do I need insulin therapy? Will I have to give up all my favorite foods? Tatha ji died of diabetes, will I be next? But before attempting to answer these questions or even understanding how to prevent or treat diabetes, we must understand what it is.

Our body has an organ called the pancreas which helps produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to take sugar (glucose) from the outside of our bodies and into our cells for energy production. So let us think of insulin as a “key” that unlocks the door of our body cells in order to let glucose inside. You must remember that this is essential to our survival.

There are two types of diabetes – type I and type II. Type I diabetics are usually diagnosed at a very early age (under age 40) and they have no insulin in their body at all. Therefore, they are missing the key completely! This means that the glucose just hangs around in their blood and is not absorbed into their cells. These people will need insulin injections right away since they have no insulin in their body; otherwise, this is life threatening! These patients develop symptoms of diabetes very rapidly – over a matter of a few weeks.

Type II diabetes, the more common type of diabetes and usually found in adults older than 40 (but it can be found in younger people), means that there is not enough insulin in the body. This means that the cell only partially lets sugar in or that the lock to the cell door does not work properly (insulin resistance). These people can either get better with a good diet and exercise, but most will need oral medications or even insulin therapy. These patients will develop symptoms over months and possibly years.

Because the excess glucose stays in the blood and isn’t being used as fuel for
energy, people with untreated diabetes often feel very tired, pass large amounts
of urine and are extremely thirsty. As people with diabetes have problems with their insulin, it is necessary for them to take steps to either create insulin or to help the insulin they are making work better in their bodies.

The main symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased frequency of urination – especially at night
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing of cuts and wounds

In next month’s Shehjar article, we will focus on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Diabetes – stay tuned!

We welcome any questions regarding this article or any other medical concerns. If there are any physicians who would like to contribute to our future editions, please email us at: doctor.shehjar@gmail.com


Contributing author - Dr. Sameer Khandar is a second year cardiology fellow at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
*Anu Munshi-Khandhar was born and partly raised in Kashmir. She moved with her family to the USA during the mass exodus of Kashmiris in 1990. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and works at the Critical Care Department at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

She is very passionate about social service, global health and preventive medicine. Her other interests are hindi music, writing and pencil sketching.

Please email us at doctor.shehjar@gmail.com for any health related questions. We can publish them anonymously at your request.

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