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 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.
How common is diabetes?
As of 2014, 29.1 million people in the United States, or 9.3 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 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.
What health problems can people with diabetes develop?
Over time, high blood glucose leads to problems such as
- heart disease
- kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy)
- eye problems (diabetic retinopathy)
- dental disease
- nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)
- foot problems
You can take steps to lower your chances of developing these diabetes-related health problems.
How is diabetes managed?
- Healthy eating and maintaining physical activity are basic and important steps for managing all types of diabetes.
- All people with type 1 diabetes will require insulin to keep their blood glucose levels under control.
- People with type 2 diabetes may control their blood sugar levels with proper diet and weight loss alone. If these lifestyle measures are not sufficient to control blood sugar levels, oral medications, and/or insulin may be required.
- Blood glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood glucose monitoring.
- Hemoglobin A1C levels are also monitored several times a year to provide a measurement of the average blood glucose levels over the previous 2-3 months.
- It is important for people with diabetes to control their blood pressure and cholesterol levels through healthy eating, physical activity, and the use of medications.
- People with diabetes must take responsibility for their day-to-day care. Much of the daily care involves keeping blood glucose levels from going too low or too high. When blood glucose levels drop too low (hypoglycemia) a person can become nervous, shaky, and confused or lose consciousness.
A person with diabetes should see his or her doctor or health care provider regularly to develop a diabetes management plan and monitor their health.
What can I do each day to stay healthy with diabetes?
- Follow the healthy eating plan that you and your doctor or dietitian have worked out.
- Be active a total of 30 minutes most days. Ask your doctor what activities are best for you.
- Take your medications as directed.
- Check your blood glucose every day. Each time you check your blood glucose, write the number in your record book.
- Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, sores, swelling, redness, or sore toenails.
- Brush and floss your teeth every day.
- Don’t smoke.
- Stop or reduce your intake of alcohol.
Reference: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Last updated February 8, 2017
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes statistics report: estimates of diabetes and its burden in the United States, 2014 website. www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/2014StatisticsReport.html . Updated May 15, 2015.