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Facts About Diabetes

What is diabetes?

When you have diabetes, your body doesn't make enough insulin. Or it can't use the insulin it makes. Insulin is a hormone. Insulin helps reduce sugar (glucose) in your blood. It does this by moving sugar from the blood into the body's cells. Once blood sugar is inside the cells, it's used for energy. Without insulin, too much sugar collects in your blood.

Other health conditions can also cause diabetes. These can include:

  • Inherited problems

  • Pancreatitis

  • Infections

  • Viruses

Diabetes can also be caused by:

  • Exposure to chemicals

  • Using certain medicines

There are 3 types of diabetes. They are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes often happens before type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal. But they are not as high as for diabetes. Many people with prediabetes will have type 2 diabetes within 10 years. More than 1 in 3 U.S. adults have prediabetes. And 9 in 10 of them don't know the risks they face. Prediabetes also raises the risk for heart disease and stroke.

You can delay type 2 diabetes. Or even prevent it. You can do this by making lifestyle changes. These include losing extra weight if you are overweight. And getting more exercise. If you are overweight, losing 5% to 10% of your weight can help. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of physical activity. Don't let more than 2 days go by without being active.

Experts also advise all adults to spend less time sitting and being inactive. This is even more important if you have type 2 diabetes. If you do sit for a long time, get up for some light activity every 30 minutes.

How does diabetes affect blood sugar?

Your pancreas makes insulin. Insulin is needed for glucose to move into the body's cells for energy. Normally insulin is available for this.

When you have diabetes, your pancreas makes little or no insulin. Or your body's cells don’t respond to the insulin that’s made. This causes sugar to build up in the blood. But your body's cells need sugar. Without it, they don't have enough fuel to work as they should.

The 3 main types of diabetes all lead to a buildup of blood sugar. This happens because of problems with insulin. But each type has a different cause and treatment:

  • Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body's immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. This means your body makes little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to live. About 1 in 20 people with diabetes have type 1.

  • Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes happens when the body can't make enough insulin. Or the body can't use it correctly. Type 2 may be controlled with diet, exercise, and weight loss. It can also be controlled with medicine taken by mouth. Or with insulin injections. About 9 in 10 to 19 in 20 people with diabetes have type 2.

  • Gestational diabetes. This type happens during pregnancy. It affects women who did not have diabetes before they got pregnant. They can't use the insulin their body makes. This type of diabetes often goes away after the baby is born. If it doesn't, it likely was not gestational diabetes. It was more likely type 1 or type 2 diabetes that began during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes may be controlled with diet and exercise, and by watching weight gain. Women with this type may need to take medicines to control blood sugar. They may be at higher risk for type 2 later in life.

Complications of diabetes

Complications of diabetes include:

  • Eye problems and blindness

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Nervous system problems

  • Amputation

  • Kidney disease

  • Impotence

Except for gestational diabetes, diabetes is an ongoing (chronic) disease that can't be cured. It affects nearly every part of the body. It can lead to other serious diseases. And it can be life-threatening. You must work with a healthcare provider to manage your diabetes. With the correct care, you can prevent the serious problems of the disease. Or stop them from getting worse.

Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
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