The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes mellitus (commonly called simply diabetes) is a disorder in which the body's ability to break down sugar for energy is compromised. It affects over 16 million people worldwide, and kills over 190,000 people a year in the US alone, making it the most common serious metabolic disorder in humans. 

Normally, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin which allows cells in the body to absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood. Cells then convert this glucose to energy. Diabetes compromises the ability of the body to produce and/or use insulin.

This means that glucose remains in the blood stream longer, resulting in high blood sugar levels ("hyperglycemia") and a loss of energy to cells. 

Buildup of glucose in the blood over many years can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and blood vessels. Development of these complications is dependent on the duration of diabetes and also how well blood sugar levels are controlled.

Over the shorter term, symptoms can include frequent urination, extreme thirst, blurry vision, numbness in hands and feet, unexplained weight loss and fatigue.

Type I Diabetes - Type II Diabetes

1. Type I Diabetes

Type I diabetes formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes), the body produces no insulin of its own. Patients with type I diabetes must take insulin for survival.

Type I diabetes normally begins in childhood or young adulthood, and accounts for 5-10% of all diabetes cases.

2. Type II Diabetes

Type II diabetes (formerly called adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) accounts for the remaining 90-95% of diabetes cases.

In type II diabetes, the pancreas does produce insulin, but for reasons unknown, body cells are resistant to its effects, making it harder for these cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Often, type II diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise; sometimes insulin therapy is required.

Drugs can also help cells be more sensitive to insulin, so that sugar can enter them. Type II diabetes commonly occurs later in life (after age 45), and risk factors include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and family history of the disease.

For further information, contact the American Diabetes Association at or 1-800-342-2383.

Further Reading: "Sweet Memories"

by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain