essential diabetes facts

An estimated 9 percent of Americans are living with diabetes — that’s about 30 million people. It’s important to learn the facts about diabetes so you can stay healthy. Here’s what you need to know about the condition, with expert insight from Mary Korytkowski, MD, an endocrinologist at UPMC.

Diabetes: Know the Types

When you have diabetes, your body does one of two things: it either doesn’t make enough of a hormone called insulin, or it doesn’t use insulin properly. Insulin is what helps sugar enter your body’s cells, so diabetes causes sugar to remain in your blood. Over time, high blood sugar can damage your body.

The three most common types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational. “Type 1 was once known as juvenile diabetes, but it can occur in adults as well,” says Dr. Korytkowski.

  • In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, which means sugar can’t enter cells to provide energy. People with Type 1 diabetes usually need regular insulin injections.
  • In Type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent type of diabetes, the pancreas does produce insulin, but cells aren’t as responsive to it.
  • Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and typically resolves after pregnancy. Like other forms of diabetes, it affects how your body uses sugar, resulting in high blood glucose levels.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

“There is nothing that can be done to prevent Type 1 diabetes,” says Dr. Korytkowski. Risk factors for diabetes usually refer to Type 2 diabetes, which is preventable.

You’re more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Are >45 years old
  • Are African American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American
  • Are overweight and/or physically inactive
  • Have a history of diabetes in your family
  • Have had a baby weighing more than 9 pounds at birth
  • Have a history of gestational diabetes
  • Have high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and/or low HDL cholesterol
  • Have a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome, stroke, or heart disease

Not everyone with diabetes has symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts or sores that don’t heal well
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Weight loss

Determining the Diagnosis

“A major concern with Type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Korytkowski says, “is that a lot of people don’t know they have it.” That’s why it’s important to visit your doctor if you think you might have the disease. The best way to learn whether you have diabetes is through a blood glucose test. This test measures the number of milligrams (mg) of glucose in a deciliter (dL) of blood. Doctors may also use a blood test called A1C, which provides an average of your blood glucose levels over the past 3 months.

Doctors typically diagnose people with diabetes if they:

  • Have a fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dL or higher
  • Have a blood glucose level of 200 mg/dL or higher after drinking a special sugar solution (an oral glucose tolerance test)
  • Have an A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher

If you’re living with diabetes, you and your doctor will develop a plan to manage your blood glucose levels, keeping them as close to normal as possible:

  • Between 70 to 130 mg/dL during the day before eating
  • Less than 180 mg/dl after meals (1-2 hours after meals)

If you believe you have diabetes, are at risk for developing diabetes, or are having difficulty managing your diabetes, it is best to consult your doctor.

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