Diabetes Services

What Is Mitochondrial Diabetes?

Mitochondria are small compartments found in every cell of the body that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power cellular biochemical reactions. Certain disorders, called mitochondrial disorders, impair the function of mitochondria. Some mitochondrial disorders can affect the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone that helps regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. Without insulin, blood glucose cannot enter cells and accumulates in the bloodstream. Over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to a number of the body’s organs and tissues, including the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.


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In addition, mitochondrial disorders can cause insulin resistance, a condition in which cells in the muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin and cannot use blood glucose for energy. To make up for it, the pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, insulin resistance causes blood sugar levels to go up.

Mitochondrial diabetes is caused by reduced function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and/or the emergence of insulin resistance in connection with a mitochondrial disorder.

What Causes Mitochondrial Diabetes?

Mitochondrial disorders can be inherited from one or both parents. In some cases, the disorders are caused by a spontaneous gene mutation and are not inherited. Environmental toxins can also cause mitochondrial disease.

Examples of mitochondrial disorders that can cause mitochondrial diabetes are:


Signs & Symptoms of Mitochondrial Diabetes

Mitochondrial diabetes symptoms are similar to those for type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes and may include:

  • Increased urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased appetite accompanied by weight loss instead of gain
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritability and mood changes

How Is Mitochondrial Diabetes Diagnosed?

Diabetes can be the presenting symptom that leads to the diagnosis of a mitochondrial disorder, which is diagnosed with genetic testing. Other times, diabetes may develop after the genetic diagnosis of a mitochondrial disorder has already been made. More generally, diagnosis of diabetes is made based on symptoms in combination with blood and urine tests that check for abnormal blood sugar levels.


How Is Mitochondrial Diabetes Treated?

In general, the treatment of mitochondrial diabetes is similar to that of other types of diabetes, with the main goal being to maintain optimal glycemia (blood sugar levels). However, individuals with mitochondrial diabetes receive individualized monitoring and treatment that manages the condition in the specific context of their mitochondrial disease.

University Hospitals Diabetes & Obesity Center: Expert Management of Diabetes & Related Disorders

Led by an experienced team of clinicians and scientists, the University Hospitals Diabetes & Obesity Center provides ongoing care, management, and education for diabetes, obesity and related conditions. Our talented team of compassionate specialists includes endocrinologists, diabetes care and education specialists, weight loss specialists, nurse practitioners and specialty pharmacists.

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Make An Appointment

To schedule a consult with a diabetes specialist, please call 216-286-8988.