Diabetes is a metabolic disorder. This means it affects a person’s metabolism, which is how the body makes energy from food. Diabetes causes a person to develop hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.

This article will look into whether diabetes is a metabolic disorder and how doctors diagnose these types of disorders.

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Metabolic disorders affect a person’s metabolism, which refers to the processes the body uses to create or obtain energy from their food.

These types of disorders can lead to an individual producing too much or too little of certain essential chemicals. This can lead to problems with how the body breaks down food for energy.

Metabolic disorders can occur due to issues with a person’s organs. Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) is an example of a metabolic condition that can occur due to liver disease.

PCT prevents certain enzymes from facilitating the production of heme, the substance that gives blood its red color. This leads to a buildup of these enzymes, which can result in painful skin lesions. PCT can develop due to hepatitis C, a disease that affects the liver.

Other metabolic disorders can be genetic, including hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition that causes a person to absorb too much iron. As the condition is genetic, it passes down from a person’s biological parents.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diabetes is a metabolic disorder.

When a person eats food, their body breaks it down into different components. Glucose is a type of sugar that comes from the food an individual consumes. It is an important substance, as it provides energy for a person’s cells. After the body extracts it from food, the glucose enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body’s cells.

Having diabetes can cause a person to have too much glucose in their bloodstream. Insulin, a hormone that comes from the pancreas, helps glucose enter a person’s cells. Diabetes can affect how the body uses or creates insulin. This can lead to a buildup of glucose in the blood.

There are several forms of diabetes. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the main types of the condition.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that type 1 diabetes accounts for between 5%⁠ and 10% of diabetes cases. Both of these forms of the condition are metabolic disorders.

Type 1

Although the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, medical experts believe it results from an autoimmune disease, a condition that causes the immune system to attack healthy cells. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys cells that produce insulin.

Having type 1 diabetes results in a person having no or very little insulin.

Type 2

When a person has type 2 diabetes, their body does not produce or use insulin effectively. Type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop in people:

  • over 45 years old
  • with a family history of diabetes
  • who have obesity
  • who have had prediabetes or gestational diabetes
  • with high blood pressure
  • with low levels of physical activity

Doctors can diagnose metabolic disorders with various screening tests. These tests measure the amount of certain substances in a person’s blood or urine. The type of test an individual undergoes will depend on the metabolic disorder the doctor is diagnosing.

When diagnosing these disorders, a doctor might ask about a person’s symptoms. They may also perform a physical exam and ask about their family history.

A healthcare professional may also need to test a person’s tissues to measure the presence of certain substances. This can involve a person having a biopsy, where a doctor removes a sample of tissue from an organ, such as the skin or liver, for testing.

If a person has a family history of a certain condition, a doctor can use genetic testing to see if they also carry the gene for that disorder. Genetic testing can help doctors confirm a diagnosis or determine an individual’s likelihood of developing that disorder.

Diagnosing diabetes

Doctors can diagnose diabetes using several types of blood tests, including:

  • Fasting plasma glucose test: Measures the amount of glucose in a person’s blood. Before this test, an individual needs to fast for at least 8 hours.
  • A1C test: Determines the average amount of glucose in a person’s blood over the past 3 months. However, people with African, Mediterranean, or Southeast Asian heritage may receive A1C results that are falsely high or low. A doctor may order a different A1C test for these individuals.
  • Random plasma glucose (RPG) test: A healthcare professional may recommend this test if a person’s diabetes symptoms are already present. They do not need to fast for an RPG test.

A person with a family history of diabetes could also have a free test to determine if they have the condition.

The treatment approach for diabetes can depend on the type a person has. If they have type 1 diabetes, they need insulin several times a day. Those with type 2 diabetes may need infrequent doses of insulin.

A person can take insulin in several ways, including:

  • injection
  • an insulin pen, which can be single-use only or refillable
  • an insulin pump, which releases steady amounts of insulin into the blood throughout the day via a small needle
  • an insulin inhaler
  • an injection port, a small tube that a person inserts beneath the skin for injecting insulin
  • a jet injector, which sends a fine mist of insulin through a person’s skin using high pressure

An individual with type 2 diabetes can help manage their condition by eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.

A less common option for those with this condition is surgery. Doctors generally recommend this approach when lifestyle changes or medications are insufficient to manage a person’s diabetes.

Doctors may also try bariatric surgeries, which are procedures to help people lose weight. These techniques can make a person’s stomach smaller or reduce the number of calories they can absorb. This can lead to remission in people with type 2 diabetes.

Healthcare professionals may also recommend pancreatic islet transplantation, a procedure for those with type 1 diabetes. This technique involves replacing a person’s pancreatic islet cells with those from a donor. Pancreatic islet cells are a group of cells in the pancreas that make insulin.

Another treatment for diabetes is the use of an artificial pancreas. This is an automated insulin-delivery system consisting of a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump. The system automatically monitors a person’s blood glucose levels, calculates the amount of insulin they need at different points during the day, and delivers it.

There is no cure for diabetes. However, a person can typically manage it with medications and lifestyle changes.

Without treatment, a person with diabetes can experience health problems such as:

  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • vision loss
  • stroke
  • dental issues
  • nerve damage
  • foot problems

Metabolic disorders affect a person’s metabolism, and diabetes is one such condition.

Doctors can diagnose metabolic disorders using a combination of tests, physical exams, and questions about a person’s family history.

Although diabetes is not curable, people can usually manage it with medications and lifestyle changes.

If a person notices any signs of diabetes, they should speak with their doctor. Without treatment, diabetes can result in various health complications and can be fatal.