There are two forms of the disorder--type 1 is characterized by an inability of the body to produce sufficient quantities of insulin, a hormone that is responsible for carbohydrate metabolism. Type 2 is characterized by the body's inability to use the insulin that is produced. Type 1 diabetes is generally the more serious of the two and almost always requires the use of diabetes medication, whereas type 2 diabetes can often be treated with lifestyle adjustments.
Diabetes is a disorder that impacts multiple organ systems, so the symptoms of diabetes can be quite diverse. The most noticeable short term symptom that many sufferers notice is a very severe and persistent thirst. This thirst is the body's reaction to elevated glucose (sugar) levels in the blood as it attempts to obtain more water the dilute the glucose levels. Sufferers generally find that they drink so much water that they find it difficult to sleep all night long without having to urinate in the middle of the night. The long term side effects of the disease are much more severe than just a nagging thirst. Constant high levels of glucose in the blood can damage many organs, with the kidneys being particularly susceptible. It is not unusually for advanced diabetes sufferers to experience kidney failure which requires the use of a dialysis machine or a kidney transfer. Circulatory problems are also common side effects, and sufferers may experience severe foot problems related to impaired blood flow to the extremities. Another common long term side effect of the disease is blindness caused by retinal damage.
Clearly, the disorder is serious enough to warrant that all patients must actively monitor their blood sugar levels and take corrective action when levels get beyond acceptable levels. For those with type 2 diabetes, the best way to control the disease is to carefully control their diet to ensure that they do not consume excessive levels of carbohydrates. Typically the physician will send the patient to a dietician to work out a diet plan. Those with type 2 diabetes should also follow their doctor's advice on starting and maintaining an exercise regimen. Those who have type 1 diabetes must rely on supplementary insulin in order to metabolize carbohydrates combined with vigilant monitoring of blood sugar levels. Insulin can be taken via injection or in pill form. Some sufferers wear an insulin pump that provides measured doses of insulin at regular intervals. Currently, scientists are working on a device, known as a closed loop insulin pump, which will actively monitor insulin levels and dispense insulin as needed. This device will revolutionize the way in which diabetes is treated.