Diabetes is a common condition that affects the way your body turns glucose from foods into fuel or energy.
Approximately 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, and another 96 million have a condition called prediabetes, which causes raised blood glucose levels and may lead to diabetes. The number of Americans with diabetes and prediabetes continues to grow each year.
These statistics are somewhat alarming, given the potential for additional health complications as a result of diabetes, including blindness, heart disease, nerve damage, poor wound healing, and possible amputation of the lower extremities.
Many Americans don’t even know they have diabetes—in fact, 80 percent of those with prediabetes are undiagnosed or unaware of their condition.
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Types of Diabetes
Two common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2, and both affect your body’s insulin production.
“Insulin helps move glucose — or sugar — from carbohydrates out of the bloodstream and into cells,” explains Smriti Manandhar, MD, an endocrinologist at UPMC Western Maryland. “This gives cells the energy to do their work. When your insulin is low or the body isn’t using it properly, the glucose stays in your blood, and your body doesn’t have enough energy to do its work.”
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is common in children and young adults, but Dr. Manandhar says it is possible to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult, too. “Typically these patients are misdiagnosed as type 2 due to the age of onset of the disease,” she adds.
In type 1, the pancreas doesn’t make insulin, so glucose stays in the blood rather than going to the cells. This is known as high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. Untreated type 1 diabetes can quickly lead to severe, life-threatening complications. Type 1 must be treated with insulin and there is no known way to prevent it.
Type 2 diabetes
In Type 2, your pancreas still makes some insulin, but the insulin does not work properly, or your cells cannot take in the glucose — which known as insulin resistance. The result is hyperglycemia, which prevents energy from getting to the cells. Eventually, hyperglycemia can cause damage to your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form, affecting more than 90 percent of those who have diabetes. Anyone can develop type 2, but those with the highest risk include:
- Those older than 45.
- Black Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Native Alaskans.
- People who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes.
- Women who have had a baby weighing more than 9 pounds at birth or were diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
The symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 can include:
- Frequent urination.
- Increased thirst.
- Blurry vision.
- Cuts or sores that don’t heal.
- Repeated infections.
- Numbness in hands or feet.
- Extreme tiredness.
- Rapid weight loss.
Diabetes can be managed, but each person typically needs to practice self-management strategies specific to their own situation.
Dr. Manandhar says that lifestyle changes have been shown to be the most effective way to lower your risk of diabetes. “In one diabetes prevention program study on risk reduction, participants were randomly prescribed either lifestyle intervention, metformin — a drug to control high blood sugar — or a placebo,” she says. “Of the three methods, simple lifestyle changes affected the highest overall risk reduction for diabetes.”
If you think you may have this condition, talk to your doctor for more information on multidisciplinary care and education programs or ask about a referral to an endocrinologist who specializes in the treatment of diabetes.
If you are curious to learn more about diabetes, treatment, and prevention, talk to your doctor or visit the UPMC Centers for Diabetes Education and Support webpage.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Department of Endocrinology stands as a national leader in research of diabetes and endocrine conditions. We partner with the University of Pittsburgh Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for research and clinical trials. We treat diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, hormonal disorders, and thyroid disorders at several locations across our communities. We also have specialized Diabetes Centers to help you manage your disease. Find an expert near you.