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.
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 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 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.
Often, doctors are able to detect the likelihood of type 2 diabetes before the condition actually occurs. Commonly referred to as pre-diabetes, this condition occurs when a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Pregnant women who have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes are those who are over 25 years old, are above their normal body weight before pregnancy, have a family history of diabetes or are Hispanic, black, Native American, or Asian.
Screening for gestational diabetes is performed during pregnancy. Left untreated, gestational diabetes increases the risk of complications to both the mother and her unborn child.
Usually, blood glucose levels return to normal within six weeks of childbirth. However, women who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later-in-life.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes often occur suddenly and can be severe. They include:
- Increased thirst.
- Increased hunger (especially after eating).
- Dry mouth.
- Frequent urination.
- Unexplained weight loss (even though you are eating and feel hungry).
- Fatigue (weak, tired feeling).
- Blurred vision.
- Labored, heavy breathing (Kussmaul respirations).
- Loss of consciousness (rare).
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes may be the same as those listed above. Most often, there are no symptoms or a very gradual development of the above symptoms. Other symptoms may include:
- Slow-healing sores or cuts.
- Itching of the skin (usually in the vaginal or groin area).
- Yeast infections.
- Recent weight gain.
- Numbness or tingling of the hands and feet.
- Impotence or erectile dysfunction.
How Is Diabetes Managed?
At the present time, diabetes can't be cured, but it can be treated and controlled. The goals of managing diabetes are to:
- Keep your blood glucose levels as near to normal as possible by balancing food intake with medication and activity.
- Maintain your blood cholesterol and triglyceride (lipid) levels as near their normal ranges as possible by decreasing the total amount of fat to 30% or less of your total daily calories and by reducing saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Control your blood pressure. Your blood pressure should not go over 130/80.
- Slow or possibly prevent the development of diabetes-related health problems.
You hold the key to managing your diabetes by:
- Planning what you eat and following a balanced meal plan
- Exercising regularly
- Taking medicine, if prescribed, and closely following the guidelines on how and when to take it
- Monitoring your blood glucose and blood pressure levels at home
- Keeping your appointments with your health care providers and having laboratory tests as ordered by your doctor
Remember: What you do at home every day affects your blood glucose more than what your doctor can do every few months during your checkups.
Reviewed by Certified Diabetes Educators in the Department of Patient
Education and Health Information and by physicians in the Department of
Endocrinology at The Cleveland Clinic.
Edited by Cynthia Haines, MD, WebMD, September 2005.
WebMD Medical Reference
Latest Diabetes News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Diabetes Mellitus Related Articles
How to Stop Anal ItchingAnal itching is the irritation of the skin at the exit of the rectum, known as the anus, accompanied by the desire to scratch. Causes include everything from irritating foods we eat, to certain diseases, and infections. Treatment options include over-the-counter medications, using moist pads, and gentle cleaning and drying of the anus.
Common Medical Abbreviations List
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
Creatinine Blood TestCreatinine is a chemical waste molecule that is generated from muscle metabolism. Creatinine is produced from creatine, a molecule of major importance for energy production in muscles. Creatinine has been found to be a fairly reliable indicator of kidney function. As the kidneys become impaired the creatinine level in the blood will rise. Normal levels of creatinine in the blood vary from gender and age of the individual.
Diabetes QuizTake the Diabetes Quiz and learn the causes, signs, symptoms, and types of this growing epidemic. What does diabetes have to do with obesity and diet? Learn about life as a diabetic.
Diabetic Retinopathy PictureDiabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes, affects the blood vessels in the retina (the thin light-sensitive membrane that covers the back of the eye). See a picture of Diabetic Retinopathy and learn more about the health topic.
Ferritin Blood TestFerritin is a protein in the body that is used to store iron. The ferritin blood test can detect elevated or low levels of ferritin in the body, which may indicate disease such as hemochromatosis, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, anemia, or iron deficiency.
Heart Disease SlideshowHeart disease prevention includes controlling risk factors like diet, exercise, and stress. Heart disease symptoms in women may differ from men. Use a heart disease risk calculator to determine your heart attack risk.
Hemoglobin A1c Test (HbA1c, A1c, Hb1c)Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c is a protein on the surface of red blood cells. The HbA1c test is used to monitor blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes over time. Normal HbA1c levels are 6% or less. HbA1c levels can be affected by insulin use, fasting, glucose intake (oral or IV), or a combination of these and other factors. High hemoglobin A1c levels in the blood increases the risk of microvascular complications, for example, diabetic neuropathy, eye, and kidney disease.
Kidney (Renal) Failure
Kidney failure can occur from an acute event or a chronic condition or disease. Prerenal kidney failure is caused by blood loss, dehydration, or medication. Some of the renal causes of kidney failure include sepsis, medications, rhabdomyolysis, multiple myeloma, and acute glomerulonephritis.
Post renal causes of kidney failure include bladder obstruction, prostate problems, tumors, or kidney stones.Treatment options included diet, medications, or dialysis.
Metabolic Syndrome QuizMetabolic syndrome is serious and you should be concerned. Learn the causes, symptoms, treatments, and complications of metabolic syndrome with our quick quiz.
Normal Blood Sugar Levels (Ranges) In Adults with Diabetes
People with diabetes can manage and prevent low or high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia) by keeping a log of your blood sugar levels when you are eating and fasting and eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar, for example, buttered potatoes, candy, sugary desserts, and fatty foods.
Blood tests, for example, the hemoglobin A1c test (A1c test) and urinalysis can diagnose the type of diabetes the person has. Diabetes during pregnancy, called gestational diabetes, should be managed by you and your OB/GYN or another healthcare professional.
Extremely high levels of blood glucose in the blood can be dangerous and life threatening if you have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes.
If you or someone that you are with has extremely high blood glucose levels, call 911 or go to your nearest Urgent Care or Emergency Department immediately.
To prevent and manage high blood glucose levels in people with diabetes keep a log of your blood sugar levels, eat foods that are high in carbohydrates sugar, for example, buttered potatoes, candy, sugary deserts, and fatty foods that you can share with your doctor and other healthcare professionals.
Diabetes: What Raises and Lowers Your Blood Sugar Level?Want to lower your blood sugar? Learn to better control your glucose levels by preventing blood sugar spikes and swings to avoid neuropathy and other diabetes complications. Find foods that lower blood sugar, and identify foods and activities that raise high blood sugar risks.
Tuberculosis Skin Test (PPD Skin Test)The tuberculosis skin test is based on the fact that infection with M. tuberculosis produces a delayed-type hypersensitivity skin reaction to certain components of the bacterium. The standard recommended tuberculin test is administered by injecting 0.1mL of 5 TU (tuberculin units) PPD into the top layers of skin of the forearm. "Reading" the skin test means detecting a raised, thickened local area of skin reaction, referred to as induration. The area of induration (palpable, raised, hardened area) around the site of injection is the reaction to tuberculin.
Type 1 DiabetesWhat is type 1 diabetes? There are new treatments for juvenile diabetes, and more people with diabetes can be treated than ever before. Learn the symptoms of T1D, the causes, and find ways to control your blood glucose levels naturally.
Type 2 Diabetes QuizWhat causes type 2 diabetes? Can it be prevented? Take this online quiz and challenge your knowledge of this common condition. Also, get the truth about myths and facts!
Type 2 Diabetes SignsLearn about type 2 diabetes warning signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. Find out why thirst, headaches, and infections could be signs of diabetes. Discover the treatment options for people with type 2 diabetes, including medicines and lifestyle improvements.
Urinalysis (Urine Test)Urinalysis (urine test, drug test) is a test performed on a patient's urine sample to diagnose conditions and diseases such as urinary tract infection, kidney infection, kidney stones, and inflammation of the kidneys, or screen for progression of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms and TreatmentVitamin D deficiency has been linked with rickets, cancer, cardiovascular disease, severe asthma in children and cognitive impairment in older adults. Causes include not ingesting enough of the vitamin over time, having limited exposure to sunlight, having dark skin, and obesity. Symptoms include bone pain and muscle weakness. Treatment for vitamin D deficiency involves obtaining more vitamin D through supplements, diet, or exposure to sunlight.