Brittle Diabetes Symptoms and Life Expectancy

Brittle Diabetes

Many people are familiar with diabetes. Either they have a family member or close friend with the condition or they themselves have it. However, diabetes is not one condition, rather a collection of metabolic diseases that affect either the way the body uses insulin or the way it makes it. There is not just one kind of diabetes, and there are varying levels of severity as well. One person with diabetes may have mild symptoms and not have to inject insulin, while another may have debilitating symptoms. An extension of this would be brittle diabetes.

The term “brittle” used to describe diabetes here refers to a very severe form of the disease. It is characterized by frequent and unpredictable swings of dangerous blood sugar levels where they go from being far too high to being far too low, often without warning. While there is some dispute over how brittle diabetes is classified (some treat it as a subtype others, a complication) it is almost always found in people with diabetes mellitus Type 1. This far less common type of diabetes is often diagnosed during childhood and refers to a physiological problem in the way that the body uses glucose.

Unfortunately, brittle diabetes is often a sign that the disease is not being managed properly. This could mean that diet and exercise plans developed with a health care provider need adjustment. It may also signal that a change in diabetes medications is in order. Without the use of medicine combined with healthy diet and lifestyle changes, brittle diabetes is nearly impossible to control. Although advances in modern medicine have made the incidence of brittle diabetes much less common, it is still a rare condition that does occur in some people. There are some risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the condition.

Women are more likely to develop brittle diabetes than men are. And, this can be compounded by the fact that both hormonal imbalances and existing hypothyroidism (more prevalent in women) are also risk factors. High levels of stress and being overweight are additional risk factors. Those who are in their 20’s and 30’s are also more likely to develop the condition. Those who delayed a diagnosis of diabetes may also have a greater risk because this can lead to the condition becoming more poorly managed. The earlier that a diagnosis of diabetes is made; the easier it is to control and manage. Additionally, earlier diagnoses also help to instill good habits and care regimens early on, thereby reducing the risk of poorly managed disease later in life.

The symptoms of brittle diabetes do not differ from regular symptoms of high and low blood sugar. Those with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may experience shakiness, nervousness, dizziness, hunger and blurry vision. Those with high blood sugar may encounter extreme thirst and increased urination. The problem with brittle diabetes is that these extremes can come about suddenly and fluctuate without warning, leading to serious risk and an increased chance of developing complications. All people with diabetes are at risk for having occasional swings in blood sugar levels. The difference in persons with brittle diabetes is that these drops and spikes can occur frequently and without any prior warning.

As a result, people with the condition are more likely to develop diabetes complications. The most severe of these is a diabetic coma. When present, a person with the condition becomes completely unconscious and unable to be woken with external stimuli like touch and sound. It is a serious condition that can lead to death and requires emergency medical treatment. Because of the random swings in blood sugar level, people with brittle diabetes are more likely to experience diabetic coma.

There are other complications that can affect persons with brittle diabetes. One of these is diabetic neuropathy, a condition in which the nerve fibers of the body are damaged as a result of improper blood sugar levels. Because people with the brittle form of the condition experience shifts in healthy blood sugar levels more often, they may be more likely to develop diabetic neuropathy. This condition can lead to pain and discomfort and in advanced cases, even paralysis.

Brittle diabetes is a very rare condition. Advances in modern medicine have made treating diabetes much more successful. It is not considered fatal if steps are taken to get it under control. It can however lead to more hospital stays and a requirement for more in depth medical care. Diabetes statistics are useful to understand mortality rates amongst people with brittle diabetes and those with the condition without progressing to the brittle form of the condition. There are nearly thirty million people in the United States with diabetes. Of these individuals, less than 5% have Type 1 diabetes, the juvenile onset form of the condition. Of these individuals, less than 1% has brittle diabetes. In general, diabetes remains the 7th leading cause of death in the country, and an underlying contributing cause of death in many other cases. However, because 95% of people with diabetes have Type 2, the adult onset form of the condition, it is easy to see both how rare brittle diabetes is and how infrequently it causes death. There is no difference in life expectancy rates for a person with diabetes, and the brittle form of the condition. In general, the life expectancy of a person with Type 1 diabetes does however differ from a person with Type 2 diabetes. Those with Type 1 have a life expectancy reduced by 20 years, versus 10 years in Type 1 cases.

The absolute best method for preventing brittle diabetes is sound medical management and lifestyle changes. It is a condition that is almost always characterized by poor disease management. The signs of diabetes in women and men should be taken very seriously, and a diagnosis should be made as quickly as possible. Medicines, diet, exercise and a reduction in stress are all important parts of properly managing both types of diabetes and therefore preventing the progression to the brittle state.

References:
https://www.healthline.com/health/what-brittle-diabetes
http://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-adult-patient-with-brittle-diabetes-mellitus
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1282243/

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