What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells.

Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause health problems. Although diabetes has no cure, you can take steps to manage your diabetes and stay healthy.

Sometimes people call diabetes “a touch of sugar” or “borderline diabetes.” These terms suggest that someone doesn’t really have diabetes or has a less serious case, but every case of diabetes is serious.

What are the different types of diabetes?

The most common types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. Your immune system attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive.

Type 2 diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not make or use insulin well. You can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. However, this type of diabetes occurs most often in middle-aged and older people. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops in some women when they are pregnant. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born. However, if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Sometimes diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy is actually type 2 diabetes.

Other types of diabetes

Less common types include monogenic diabetes, which is an inherited form of diabetes, and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes .

How common is diabetes?

As of 2015, 30.3 million people in the United States, or 9.4 percent of the population, had diabetes. More than 1 in 4 of them didn’t know they had the disease. Diabetes affects 1 in 4 people over the age of 65. About 90-95 percent of cases in adults are type 2 diabetes.1

Who is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes?

You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are age 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes, or are overweight. Physical inactivity, race, and certain health problems such as high blood pressure also affect your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. You are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you have prediabetes or had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant. Learn more about risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

What health problems can people with diabetes develop?

Over time, high blood glucose leads to problems such as

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • kidney disease
  • eye problems
  • dental disease
  • nerve damage
  • foot problems

You can take steps to lower your chances of developing these diabetes-related health problems.

Symptoms & Causes

Increased thirst and urination, feeling tired, unexplained weight loss, and blurred vision are symptoms of diabetes. Many people have no symptoms and don’t know they have diabetes. Each type of diabetes has different causes.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, or are over age 45. Physical inactivity, race, and certain health problems also affect your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. A history of gestational diabetes is a risk factor for women.

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

You can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes by losing weight if you are overweight, being active for 30 minutes most days of the week, and following a reduced-calorie eating plan. Some people also take the diabetes drug metformin to help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Tests & Diagnosis

Tests to diagnose diabetes and prediabetes include the A1C test, fasting plasma glucose test, and random plasma glucose test. Tests for gestational diabetes include the glucose challenge test and oral glucose tolerance test.

Managing Diabetes

Managing your diabetes means managing your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and quitting smoking if you smoke. A healthy diet and physical activity are important too. Work with your health care team to create a diabetes care plan that works for you.

Insulin, Medicines, & Other Diabetes Treatments

Following your diabetes treatment plan may include taking diabetes pills, insulin, or other shots, as well as medicines for related health problems. Some types of surgery, such as weight loss surgery, may be options for certain people with diabetes.

Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity

Your diabetes meal plan helps you manage your blood glucose. Moderate physical activity most days of the week also helps control blood glucose. Talk with your health care team about a plan for eating and physical activity that is right for you.

Preventing Diabetes Problems

Diabetes can affect almost every part of your body. Managing your blood glucose can help prevent many other health problems that can occur when you have the disease. Common diabetes problems include

Other Types of Diabetes

Learn more about less-common types of diabetes.

Pregnancy & Diabetes

If you have diabetes and plan to get pregnant, or develop diabetes during pregnancy, you can take steps to keep yourself and your baby healthy.

Diabetes & Tobacco

Smoking and tobacco products can make diabetes problems worse, especially heart disease and foot problems.

If you smoke, stop. Ask for help so you don’t have to do it alone. Quitting smoking  will improve your health.

Clinical Trials

The NIDDK and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) support and conduct research into many diseases and conditions.

 

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