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Facts About Diabetes

Healthy couple riding bikes through a wooded trail.

Diabetes occurs when your body does not properly process food as energy.

When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t respond to insulin or doesn’t produce any insulin at all. Insulin is a critical hormone that gets glucose (sugar that is used as energy) to the cells in your body. This causes sugars to build up in your blood, which puts you at risk of dangerous complications.

Diabetes: What You Need to Know

  • More than 40 percent of American adults have diabetes or are at increased risk of developing the disease. In the coming years, the number of Americans with diabetes will likely double, reaching an estimated 44.1 million people.

  • Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, heart disease, amputation, end-stage kidney disease and liver problems.

  • The good news is that diabetes can be managed — and many of its complications can be prevented — with proper self-care and treatment.

  • If you smoke, stop. If you’re overweight, eat less and exercise. Work with your doctor to control your blood pressure and cholesterol.

What is diabetes?

Woman using a lancing device

People with diabetes cannot maintain healthy levels of blood glucose (blood sugar) unless they carefully monitor what they eat and, in most cases, take medication. While other people experience occasional bouts of high blood glucose, people with diabetes experience this problem more severely and frequently unless they are appropriately treated. Abnormally high blood glucose levels that persist over time can lead to a number of serious complications.

Learn more about blood glucose and how it’s checked:

Types of Diabetes

Patient speaking with his endocrinologist

A small fraction — as few as 5 percent — of people with diabetes are unable to make any insulin at all. This condition is known as type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the body’s own pancreas. The damaged pancreas can no longer produce insulin for the body, so people with type 1 diabetes must use insulin injections to survive.

The vast majority — as many as 95 percent — of people with diabetes can produce normal levels of insulin, but their bodies cannot appropriately respond to the hormone. In people who have type 2 diabetes, insulin is no longer effective at lowering blood glucose. Sometimes people with diabetes can keep their blood glucose at healthy levels by controlling the amount of carbohydrates in their diet. In most cases, medication is needed in the form of pills. Eventually, some people with type 2 diabetes lose their ability to produce insulin and must use insulin injections.

Learn more about the types of diabetes and how each is diagnosed:

Complications of Diabetes

Woman receiving an eye exam.

People with diabetes are at greater risk than others of developing complications. Generally, these problems fall into one of two categories:

  • Acute problems arise quickly and get better with prompt treatment. For example, eating too many carbs or forgetting to take medication can cause high blood glucose in people with diabetes. Until it is treated, high blood glucose causes blurry vision, fatigue, thirstiness and urinating more often than usual.
  • Chronic problems develop over many years and are difficult to reverse. For example, people who have uncontrolled diabetes for many years often develop diseases that affect the blood vessels, both big and small, throughout the body.

    People with diabetes are two to three times more likely than other people to develop heart disease. They are also at risk for developing diseases of the eyes, nerves and kidney.

Learn more about diabetes complications:

Diabetes Treatment

Healthy couple jogging together

Multiple options are available for treating diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to control their blood glucose. Some people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose by monitoring their diet, but most require pills or insulin.

Learn more about diabetes treatment:

Diabetes and Nutrition

Healthy salmon dinner, served atop a bed of vegetables

Proper nutrition is essential to keeping blood glucose under control and improving overall health. With type 1 and type 2 diabetes, it’s important to be aware of the number of carbs in the foods you eat because they raise your blood glucose after meals.

Learn more about nutrition for diabetes:

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