What is it that goes wrong inside the body?
All the nutrients we ingest daily are converted in the body into fuel and building materials. Carbohydrates (sugars) are broken down in the digestive tract, after which they end up in our blood as glucose. The glucose is then transported by the blood to all parts of our body to provide the body with energy. In order to gain access to the different tissues of the body, glucose needs insulin. The organ responsible for the production of insulin is the pancreas.
Depending on the type of diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin, or else the body does not respond correctly to the insulin. The result is that either the glucose is not absorbed, or is insufficiently absorbed, and continues to circulate in the blood. Consequently, the glucose content in the blood is higher than normal.
This can have serious consequences, such as cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke) and damage to kidneys, nerves and eyes (kidney failure, amputation, blindness). The course of the effects is difficult to predict.
Cardiovascular diseases are common complications. Over 80% of people with diabetes will die of these diseases. This applies in particular to circulatory disorders of the large vessels, such as the heart (heart attack), brain (stroke) and legs (pain with walking). But also the small vessels may become damaged, such as in the retina, resulting in blindness. Diabetes is the major cause of blindness in Europe.
Damage to small nerves can cause sensory disturbances in the legs. In combination with blood flow dysfunction, this can lead to serious damage to the legs, potentially resulting in amputation. As a result, diabetes is one of the main causes of amputations. The kidneys can be severely damaged, to the extent that dialysis becomes necessary. In the United States, diabetes is already the main reason for dialysis, and the Netherlands is following suit.
Where one person can seemingly live quite reasonably with the disease, another will have to deal with serious complications, as evidenced by the documentary about Erik Mijnlieff. On 30 September 2009, Erik died at the age of 45 from complications caused by type 1 diabetes.
Treatment aims to normalize the blood glucose level as much as possible and thereby reduce the risk of serious complications. The aim is to administer the right amount of insulin or hypoglycaemic tablets in changing conditions, and to correctly balance diet and exercise.
Due to the increase in the number of overweight people, it is likely that the number of diabetic patients is set to increase explosively. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and teenagers. And the rapid increase in diabetes among children is alarming. More and more children are developing diabetes at an increasingly younger age. Between 1988 and 1990, it was at 9.2 years of age, now it is 7.6. Due to the younger age, there is also more risk of complications because of longer lifetime exposure to diabetes.
Is there a cure for diabetes?
There has been much research into diabetes. However, more is invested in making everyday life more comfortable for patients. The DON Foundation supports, and is actively in search of, ground-breaking research, with the aim of finding a complete cure for diabetes. Every day we work hard to achieve this aim, but we have not yet found the solution.