Diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Too Much Glucose in the Blood

Diabetes means your blood glucose (often called blood sugar) is too high. Your blood always has some glucose in it because your body needs glucose for energy to keep you going. But too much glucose in the blood isn't good for your health.

Glucose comes from the food you eat and is also made in your liver and muscles. Your blood carries the glucose to all of the cells in your body. Insulin is a chemical (a hormone) made by the pancreas. The pancreas releases insulin into the blood. Insulin helps the glucose from food get into your cells.

If your body does not make enough insulin or if the insulin doesn't work the way it should, glucose can't get into your cells. It stays in your blood instead. Your blood glucose level then gets too high, causing pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

There are three main kinds of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. The result of type 1 and type 2 diabetes is the same: glucose builds up in the blood, while the cells are starved of energy. Over the years, high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, oftentimes leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve problems, gum infections, and amputation.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. With this form of diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas no longer make insulin because the body's immune system has attacked and destroyed them. About 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes or non insulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age -- even during childhood. This form of diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by producing more insulin. In time, however, it loses the ability to secrete enough insulin in response to meals.

Who Gets Type 2 Diabetes?

About 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is also more common in people with a family history of diabetes and in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Asian and Pacific Islanders. Being over 45 years of age and overweight or obese raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

Some women develop gestational diabetes during the late stages of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is caused by the hormones of pregnancy or a shortage of insulin. Although this form of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who has had it and her child are more likely to develop diabetes later in life. In fact, women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35% to 60% chance of developing diabetes in the next 10-20 years, according to the CDC.

Pre-diabetes

Pre-diabetes means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and for heart disease and stroke. The good news is that if you have pre-diabetes, you can reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Signs of Diabetes

Many people with diabetes experience one or more telling symptoms, including extreme thirst or hunger, a frequent need to urinate and/or fatigue. Some lose weight without trying. Additional signs include sores that heal slowly, dry, itchy skin, loss of feeling or tingling in the feet and blurry eyesight. Some people with diabetes, however, have no symptoms at all.

How Many Have Diabetes?

Nearly 26 million Americans age 20 or older (11.3 percent of all people in this age group) have diabetes, according to 2011 estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 1.9 million people aged 20 years or older were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2010 alone. People can get diabetes at any age, but the risk increases as we get older. In 2011, almost 11 million older adults living in the U.S--nearly 27 percent of people 65 or older--have diabetes.

If Diabetes is Not Controlled

Diabetes is a very serious disease. Over time, diabetes that is not well controlled causes serious damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, gums and teeth. If you have diabetes, you are more than twice as likely as people without diabetes to have a heart disease or a stroke. People with diabetes also tend to develop heart disease or stroke at an earlier age than others.