Whether you were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a week ago or 8 years ago like Jacquie, this life-altering day is almost impossible to forget. Your diagnosis day often marks the beginning of a daily routine of prescription medications or injections, and now there is growing evidence that the burden of diabetes may take a huge toll on your mental health over time as well.
In obese young people, decreased β-cell function has recently been shown to predict deterioration of glucose tolerance (4,78). Additionally, the rate of decline in glucose tolerance in first-degree relatives of type 2 diabetic individuals is strongly related to the loss of β-cell function, whereas insulin sensitivity changes little (79). This observation mirrors those in populations with a high incidence of type 2 diabetes in which transition from hyperinsulinemic normal glucose tolerance to overt diabetes involves a large, rapid rise in glucose levels as a result of a relatively small further loss of acute β-cell competence (3). The Whitehall II study showed in a large population followed prospectively that people with diabetes exhibit a sudden rise in fasting glucose as β-cell function deteriorates (Fig. 5) (80). Hence, the ability of the pancreas to mount a normal, brisk insulin response to an increasing plasma glucose level is lost in the 2 years before the detection of diabetes, although fasting plasma glucose levels may have been at the upper limit of normal for several years. This was very different from the widely assumed linear rise in fasting plasma glucose level and gradual β-cell decompensation but is consistent with the time course of markers of increased liver fat before the onset of type 2 diabetes observed in other studies (81). Data from the West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study demonstrated that plasma triacylglycerol and ALT levels were modestly elevated 2 years before the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and that there was a steady rise in the level of this liver enzyme in the run-up to the time of diagnosis (75).
On a personal note, I always encourage full disclosure of a history of diabetes, even if currently diet controlled. Although a glucose level may now be within normal range, certain medical treatments/medications/illnesses may trigger a hyperglycemic (high blood glucose) level. The fully informed medical provider will closely monitor these patients and prevent uncontrolled glucose spikes from occurring.
The good news though is that this can be delayed, and we can do something about preventing and managing the early stages of diabetes through simple lifestyle modifications, and the body will remember these efforts if they can be maintained early in the diagnosis and for as long as possible. This in turn will delay the progression of diabetes and development of diabetes complications.
Insulin therapy creates risk because of the inability to continuously know a person's blood glucose level and adjust insulin infusion appropriately. New advances in technology have overcome much of this problem. Small, portable insulin infusion pumps are available from several manufacturers. They allow a continuous infusion of small amounts of insulin to be delivered through the skin around the clock, plus the ability to give bolus doses when a person eats or has elevated blood glucose levels. This is very similar to how the pancreas works, but these pumps lack a continuous "feed-back" mechanism. Thus, the user is still at risk of giving too much or too little insulin unless blood glucose measurements are made.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.