Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high.
You get diabetes if your body's normal way of controlling blood sugar isn't working right.
There are 2 types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2
People with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin (type 1 is sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes)
Some people with type 2 diabetes have to take insulin, but many can just take pills and change their diet
There is no cure for diabetes, but you can manage it by taking insulin or other medicine and changing what you eat
Blood sugar is:
Blood sugar isn't just from sugar that's in your drinks or that you put on food. Blood sugar comes from all sorts of food, like:
These and many other foods contain carbohydrates. Your body turns carbohydrates into blood sugar.
Your body controls how much sugar gets from your blood into your body’s cells by using:
Insulin is a hormone your body makes in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ in your belly behind your stomach.
After you eat, your body absorbs food and your blood sugar increases. Your pancreas senses the higher blood sugar and starts putting out insulin. The insulin tells your body's cells to take in sugar from the blood. When the blood sugar is at the right level, your pancreas stops putting out insulin.
Diabetes involves a problem with insulin.
There are 2 main types of diabetes:
Eating sugary foods doesn't give you diabetes. However, eating so much that you get very overweight can give you type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops before age 30, typically in children and adolescents.
Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age but is more common in people who:
Some women get type 2 diabetes during pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes symptoms often start suddenly. You may:
Sometimes a dangerous problem called diabetic ketoacidosis happens. It starts suddenly and can be the first sign of diabetes in children. If you have diabetic ketoacidosis, you may:
Type 2 diabetes symptoms may start slowly. You may not have symptoms for many years. When you do, you may notice you’re:
These symptoms get worse over weeks or months. You may also:
Doctors will test your blood to check your:
Usually doctors measure your blood sugar level first thing in the morning before you've eaten anything. That is called a fasting blood sugar. Doctors need to measure fasting blood sugar because the rest of the day your blood sugar goes up and down depending on how much you eat.
Fasting blood sugar levels:
Another test doctors might do is:
Hemoglobin is a substance inside your red blood cells. It carries oxygen in your blood. Sugar in your blood attaches to hemoglobin and forms hemoglobin A1C.
Because hemoglobin A1C lasts a long time, the amount of it in your blood changes slowly. So your hemoglobin A1C level tells your doctor about your blood sugar levels over the past 2 to 3 months. People with a hemoglobin A1C level higher than 6.5% have diabetes.
There is no cure for diabetes. The goal of treatment is to keep blood sugar levels close to normal.
Treatment of diabetes involves:
If you have diabetes, learn as much about it as you can. Talk to a nurse trained in diabetes education. The nurse can help you understand what to eat, how active to be, how to check your blood sugar levels, and how to adjust your insulin (if needed).
Your body can't respond to changes in your blood sugar level, so it's important to:
Eat meals and snacks at about the same time each day
Eat about the same amount each day
Limit carbohydrates (like bread) and fatty foods at each meal
Eat more vegetables and carbohydrates that break down slowly, like those in fruits, whole grains, and high-fiber foods
Limit processed foods, like candy, cookies, donuts, and pastries
Avoid sugary drinks, including soda, sweet iced tea, lemonade, fruit punch, and sports drinks
Limit alcoholic drinks to 1 per day if you’re female and 2 per day if you’re male
You should try to exercise some every day.
Working out can help you get to or stay at a healthy weight and control your sugar levels
Talk to your doctor or nurse to figure out how much you should work out and what kinds of activities are best for you
Because your blood sugar level goes down when you exercise, you may need to eat a snack or give yourself less insulin before a long workout
If you have type 2 diabetes, it's very important to try to lose weight if you're overweight.
Sometimes, if you lose enough weight you may not need to take medicine.
If you have type 1 diabetes, losing weight doesn't help with your blood sugar levels. But excess weight isn't healthy for anyone.
You need to check your blood sugar level because your blood sugar level changes all the time based on:
If your blood sugar levels change significantly, you may need to change your diet or the medicine you take.
Your doctor will tell you when and how often to check your blood sugar. If you have type 1 diabetes, you usually need to check your blood sugar several times a day. If you have type 2 diabetes, you can check it less often.
Most often you'll check your blood sugar by:
Write down your blood sugar levels each time you check them so you can share the numbers with your doctor. Your doctor will use the numbers to tell you whether to change your medicines or your diet. If you don't check your blood sugar, it can get too high and no one will know.
Some people use a continuous glucose monitoring device—this uses a small sensor placed under your skin that shows the results of your blood sugar levels every few minutes on the screen of a small belt device worn like a cell phone.
Doctors can also check the amount of hemoglobin A1C in your blood every 3 to 6 months. This lets them see how well your blood sugar levels have been controlled over time.
American Diabetes Association: Support tools and direction regarding diabetes and its management
JDRF: Global organization funding type 1 diabetes research
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Detailed information about diabetes and its complications