Diabetes: Diabetes Basics

  • What are the symptoms of diabetes?
  • How is diabetes managed?
  • Introduction

    Diabetes is a number of diseases that involve problems with the hormone insulin. Normally, the pancreas (an organ behind the stomach) releases insulin to help your body store and use the sugar and fat from the food you eat. Diabetes when one of the following occurs:

    • When the pancreas does not produce any insulin.
    • When the pancreas produces very little insulin.
    • When the body does not respond appropriately to insulin, a condition called "insulin resistance."

    Diabetes is a lifelong disease. Approximately 18.2 million Americans have the disease and almost one third ( or approximately 5.2 million) are unaware that they have it. An additional 41 million people have pre-diabetes. As yet, there is no cure. People with diabetes need to manage their disease to stay healthy.

    The Role of Insulin in Diabetes

    To understand why insulin is important, it helps to know more about how the body uses food for energy. Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, these cells need food in a very simple form. When you eat or drink, much of your food is broken down into a simple sugar called "glucose." Then, glucose is transported through the bloodstream to the cells of your body where it can be used to provide some of the energy your body needs for daily activities.

    The amount of glucose in your bloodstream is tightly regulated by the hormone insulin. Insulin is always being released in small amounts by the pancreas. When the amount of glucose in your blood rises to a certain level, the pancreas will release more insulin to push more glucose into the cells. This causes the glucose levels in your blood (blood glucose levels) to drop.

    To keep your blood glucose levels from getting too low (hypoglycemia or low blood sugar), your body signals you to eat and releases some glucose from the stores kept in the liver.

    People with diabetes either don't make insulin or their body's cells no longer are able to recognize insulin, leading to high blood sugars. By definition, diabetes is having a blood glucose level of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or more after an overnight fast (not eating anything).

    Types of Diabetes

    Type 1 Diabetes

    Type 1 diabetes occurs because the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (called beta cells) are destroyed by the immune system. People with type 1 diabetes produce no insulin and must use insulin injections to control their blood glucose.

    Type 1 Diabetes

    Type 1 diabetes most commonly starts in people under the age of 20, but may occur at any age.

    Type 2 Diabetes

    Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes produce insulin. However, the insulin their pancreas secretes is either not enough or the body is unable to recognize the insulin and use it properly. When there isn't enough insulin or the insulin is not used as it should be, glucose can't get into the body's cells.

    Type 2 Diabetes

    Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting almost 18 million Americans. While most of these cases can be prevented, it remains for adults the leading cause of diabetes-related complications such as blindness, non-traumatic amputations and chronic kidney failure requiring dialysis. Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in people over age 40 who are overweight, but can occur in people who are not overweight. Sometimes referred to as "adult-onset diabetes," type 2 diabetes has started to appear more often in children because of the rise in obesity in young people.

    Some people can manage their type 2 diabetes by controlling their weight, watching their diet, and exercising regularly. Others may also need to take a pill that helps their body use insulin better, or take insulin injections.




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