Diabetes is a chronic (life-long) autoimmune disease that has a significant impact on your life. Having this chronic disease means you must work to control your blood glucose (sugar) levels to be sure that they don’t get too high or too low.
The amount and balance of glucose in your blood is important. Your body needs glucose for energy, but too much of it can destroy body tissues and too little can starve your body of nutrients.
People who have diabetes are also at risk of developing wounds and sores that don’t heal well. While the wounds are present, they are at high risk of developing infection. And, again because of the disease, the infections can get severe quickly. When infection overwhelms the body, the body can respond by developing sepsis and going into septic shock.
Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and rapid treatment for survival.
Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.
What is diabetes?
Your pancreas is a small organ (about 6” by 1.5”) that is part of your digestive system. It is connected to your small intestine and it lies just below your stomach towards the back. Your pancreas has a few roles, one is to help digest the food you eat and another is to secrete (send out) insulin, which stimulates your cells to use the glucose in the food and drink you consume.
When a person has diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t function properly and the insulin is either not being secreted at all or isn’t effective, depending on the type of diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 10.5% of the American population has the disease. That is 34.2 million children and adults. There are 26.8 million people who have been diagnosed and 7.7 million who have diabetes but weren’t diagnosed. In addition, 88 million adults are close to developing diabetes, they fall into the “pre-diabetes” category. Compare this with 2017, when 9.4% of people in the U.S. had diabetes, 30.3 million children and adults; 23.1 million people were diagnosed and 7.2 who were not yet diagnosed. Over 84 million people had pre-diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 used to be called juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes. It is now called type 1 because many people with type 1 diabetes are not children when they develop the disease. As well, insulin isn’t restricted to people with this type of diabetes.
With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot not provide the body with the insulin it needs to metabolize the glucose in the blood stream.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 used to be called adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes. Neither of these names works because now younger people are developing type 2 diabetes and it is not unusual for someone with type 2 diabetes to need insulin.
With type 2, the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body cannot effectively use the insulin that is produced.
How do you get diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes has no known cause, although researchers agree that it is an autoimmune disease. There are many theories, a common one being that a virus may trigger the disease in people who may be susceptible to it in the first place.
Although you can’t generally cause type 1 diabetes, it can be brought on by certain diseases that destroy the pancreas’s ability to work properly or some medications may trigger the disease. Usually, if it is caused by a medication, it can be reversible.
People at highest risk for type 1 diabetes are those:
- With a family history of type 1
- Who live in countries farther away from the equator (warmer countries tend to have lower rates of type 1)
- Who have a specific gene that seems to be related to developing the disease
While some people develop type 2 diabetes regardless of how healthy they are, many who develop it may have been able to reduce their risk by making some lifestyle changes.
People at highest risk of developing type 2 include those who:
- Are over 45 years old
- Have low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and/or high triglyceride levels
- Have high blood pressure
- Have had gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant)
- Have been told they have an impaired glucose tolerance by their doctor
- Are African American, Hispanic American, or Native Americans, who all have high rates of diabetes
It’s important to look for the warning signs of sepsis. Spotting these symptoms early could prevent the body from entering septic shock, and could save a life.
- Hypothermia (lower than normal body temperature)
- Heart rate >90 beats per minute (bpm)
- Fast respiratory rate
- Altered mental status (confusion/coma)
- Edema (swelling)
- High blood glucose without diabetes
Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed. If you have type 1, the only way to manage your blood glucose levels is by monitoring them and injecting yourself regularly with insulin. Type 2 is generally treated first with lifestyle changes and/or oral medications to help your body use the insulin in your system. If your blood glucose levels are still too high, you may need to use insulin.
If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.
Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.
Updated August 30, 2020.