mother-daughterFor the past several years, news of the diabetes epidemic in United States has been everywhere ― TV, newspapers, radio, social media ― and rightfully so. The statistics on the prevalence of the largely-preventable Type 2 diabetes are truly alarming. But while we know about its growth and that diabetes is serious, many people may not know how the disease actually works.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that causes a person’s body to improperly process glucose (or sugar) that is found in the food that we eat. Depending on the type of diabetes, sometimes a person can’t process glucose at all. This is because of a malfunctioning pancreas, the organ that is responsible for producing insulin — a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and allows our bodies to turn that sugar into energy. Because of a poorly functioning or non-functioning pancreas, diabetics experience high and low blood sugar levels, which can lead to health complications.

Diabetes can cause health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lead to amputations and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

In 2014, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, had diabetes, according to the CDC. And, 86 million Americans age 20 and older had prediabetes.

Learn more about what diabetes is and how it works in this informative video from Cornerstones4Care:

Types of Diabetes

Often when the term “diabetes” is used, people are referring to type 2 diabetes which is the most common form.

The three types of diabetes are:

Blood-sugar-Test2Type 1 diabetes (previously known as “juvenile diabetes”) can occur at any age, but is most often diagnosed in children, teens or young adults. When someone has type 1 diabetes, the body does not create insulin. Because of this, multiple blood testing and insulin injections are needed each day to control blood sugar levels. Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease according to the American Diabetes Association. The cause for type 1 diabetes is unknown, but genetics and/or certain viruses may be triggers. This disease is chronic, and there is no cure.

Type 2 diabetes makes up most diabetes cases. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the body is not converting the insulin properly into energy, making a person insulin-resistant. In many cases, a healthy diet and exercise are the best way to manage the disease, but sometimes insulin injections are needed. It most often occurs in adulthood, but more children and teens are being diagnosed with it due to obesity.

Gestational diabetes is when a pregnant woman who is not diabetic is unable to produce enough insulin, resulting in high blood sugar. The cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, and it can negatively affect an unborn baby if not handled properly through insulin injections.

Symptoms of Diabetes

diabetes-suppliesAlthough only a health professional can determine if you have diabetes, there are a number of symptoms that diabetics experience:

  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue and Irritability
  • Unexplained blurred vision
  • Tingling/numbness in the hands/feet

If you are experiencing any of these you should contact your physician. Since some diabetics don’t experience any symptoms you should also have regular checkups by a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant.

There are a lot of myths and medical terms surrounding the topic of diabetes. Visit our Diabetes Facts and Glossary page to dispel some myths and brush up on your terminology.

Additional Resources

CDC’s National Diabetes Education Program
American Diabetes Association
Joslin Diabetes Center
National Diabetes Education Program (through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)