Skip to Content

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy necessary for daily life. This means that your body cannot properly use and store glucose (a form of sugar). The glucose builds up in your bloodstream, causing a high blood glucose level. The cause of diabetes is still being researched, although both environmental and genetic factors such as family history and obesity appear to play roles.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and it contributes to other diseases, especially cardiovascular disease. It can have many long-term complications, which is why it is important to learn all you can to protect your health. There are several different types of diabetes, including type 1, type 2 and Gestational Diabetes. There are currently more than 20 million Americans, or about 7 percent of the U.S. population, who have diabetes. It is estimated that by 2050, up to 29 million Americans will have diabetes. Overall, 33 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls born in 2000 are estimated to develop diabetes. Since some of the symptoms of diabetes are mild, many people are not even aware that they have the disease. It is predicted that 6.2 million Americans have diabetes and don't know it.

Long-Term Complications

Diabetes can cause many long-term complications. The most common are:

  • Blindness — Diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness for 20 to 74-year-olds.
  • Kidney disease — Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease.
  • Nerve disease and amputation — 60 to 70 percent of diabetics have mild to severe forms of diabetic nerve damage. Extreme forms can lead to lower-limb amputation.
  • Heart disease and stroke — Diabetics are two to four times more likely to have heart disease and two to four times more likely to have a stroke than non-diabetics.

Types of Diabetes

There are many types of diabetes. The following are seen most frequently:

  • Type 1: Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5 to 10 percent of diabetes cases. In type 1, the body does not produce any insulin; therefore, people with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections to stay alive. This type most often occurs in children and young adults.
  • Type 2: Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases and is the most common form of diabetes. In this case the body cannot make enough insulin, or is unable to use it properly. This most often occurs in adults over 40 or those who are overweight.
  • Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes develops in approximately 4 percent of all pregnant women, but disappears when the pregnancy is over. This affects approximately 135,000 women in the United States each year. Women who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Pre-Diabetes: A condition that occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. It is estimated that approximately 54 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Research has shown that if action is taken to control blood glucose levels in the pre-diabetes stage development of type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented.