Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.
Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
For more information, see the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse publication
People who think they might have diabetes must visit a physician for diagnosis. They might have SOME or NONE of the following symptoms:
Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains may accompany some of these symptoms in the abrupt onset of insulin-dependent diabetes, now called type 1 diabetes.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes.
Risk factors are less well defined for type 1 diabetes than for type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved in developing this type of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently in African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and people with a family history of diabetes. Obesity is also associated with higher risk. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at increased risk for later developing type 2 diabetes. In some studies, nearly 40% of women with a history of gestational diabetes developed diabetes in the future.
Other specific types of diabetes, which may account for 1% to 2% of all diagnosed cases, result from specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses.
Healthy eating, physical activity, and insulin injections are the basic therapies for type 1 diabetes. The amount of insulin taken must be balanced with food intake and daily activities. Blood glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood glucose testing.
Healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose testing are critical for managing type 2 diabetes. In addition, many people with type 2 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both to control their blood glucose levels.
People with diabetes must take responsibility for their day-to-day care, to keep blood glucose levels from going too low or too high.
People with diabetes should see a health care provider who will monitor their diabetes control and help them learn to manage their diabetes. In addition, people with diabetes may see endocrinologists who specialize in diabetes care; ophthalmologists for eye examinations; podiatrists for routine foot care; and dietitians and diabetes educators who teach the skills needed for daily diabetes management. Diabetes self-management classes may help you learn to meet the day-to-day challenges of living a healthy life with diabetes. List of Utah Diabetes Education Programs
The Diabetes Overview fact sheet from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse has additional information.
The causes of type 1 diabetes appear to be much different from those for type 2 diabetes, although the exact mechanisms for developing both diseases are unknown. The appearance of type 1 diabetes is suspected to follow exposure to an 'environmental trigger,' such as an unidentified virus that stimulates an immune attack against the beta cells of the pancreas (that produce insulin) in some genetically predisposed people.
For more information about the immune system, visit these pages from The National Institute of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Website.
For more information on genetics and disease, visit:
A number of studies have shown that regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes also appears to be associated with obesity, so maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is important.
Researchers are making progress in identifying the exact genetics and 'triggers' that predispose some individuals to develop type 1 diabetes, but prevention remains elusive.
See Preventing Diabetes for more information.
In response to the growing health burden of diabetes, the diabetes community has three choices: prevent diabetes; cure diabetes; and improve the quality of care of people with diabetes to prevent devastating complications. All three approaches are being actively pursued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are involved in prevention activities. The NIH is involved in research to cure both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, especially type 1. CDC focuses most of its programs on being sure that the proven science is put into daily practice for people with diabetes. The basic idea is that if all the important research and science are not applied meaningfully in the daily lives of people with diabetes, then the research is, in essence, wasted.
Several approaches to "cure" diabetes are being pursued:
All of these approaches still face challenges, such as preventing immune rejection, finding an adequate number of insulin cells, keeping cells alive, and others. But progress is being made in all areas.
Diabetes is a complex disease that may affect many aspects of your health. The best way to avoid diabetes-related health problems is to keep your blood sugar level adequately controlled. The following pages have information about how you can live a healthy life with diabetes:
The Utah DPCP has received permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to copy the above material on this website.