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Diabetes Information

Diabetes Basics

If you have diabetes, you are not alone. Millions of people today have diabetes. Diabetes cannot yet be cured, but it can be managed. It is possible to lead a full and active life with diabetes.  The first step is learning how to take care of yourself.

When you have diabetes, there are 2 parts to learning how to take care of yourself. The first part is to get information about diabetes so you can make good choices. The second part is to develop the skills to put your diabetes information to use in your daily life.

What Is Diabetes?

When you eat, some of your food is broken down into sugar (also called glucose). Sugar travels in your blood to all your body's cells.

Your cells need sugar for energy. Sugar from food makes your blood sugar level go up. Insulin lowers your blood sugar level by helping sugar move from your blood into your cells. Insulin is a hormone that is made by the beta cells in your pancreas.

When you eat, another hormone made in the gut helps the pancreas produce the right amount of insulin to move sugar from the blood into the cells. This hormone is called GLP-1. It stimulates the beta cells in the pancreas to release insulin when the blood sugar is too high. It also helps to lower the amount of sugar made by the liver.

There is also a third hormone called glucagon that tells the liver to release stored sugar if your blood sugar gets too low or if you have not eaten for many hours, such as overnight.

What Happens in Diabetes?

When you have diabetes:

  • Your pancreas makes little or no insulin, and/or
  • Your body prevents the insulin you do make from working right

As a result, sugar can’t get into your cells. So it stays in your blood. That’s why your blood sugar gets too high (also called hyperglycemia).

There are 4 ways doctors can tell if you have diabetes:

  • Your A1C is 6.5% or higher (A1C is an average of your blood sugar over the last 3 months)
  • Your fasting blood sugar level is 126 mg/dL or higher. Fasting blood sugar levels mean no food for at least 8 hours prior to checking your blood sugar
  • The result of your oral glucose tolerance test is 200 mg/dL or higher
  • You have symptoms of high blood sugar or low blood sugar, and a blood test taken at a random time shows a blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL or higher

What Is the Difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, the body makes little or no insulin. So people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day. Type 1 diabetes usually is diagnosed in children and young adults, but can also appear in older adults.

In type 2 diabetes, your body prevents the insulin it does make from working right. Your body may make some insulin, but not enough. Most people with diabetes—about 90% to 95%—have type 2. This kind of diabetes usually happens in people who are older, or those who are overweight. In fact, about 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.

What Other Kinds of Diabetes Are There?

Other kinds of diabetes include gestational diabetes, which can develop during pregnancy. Diabetes can also be caused by genetic defects or by other illnesses such as pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis, or by medicines or certain infections.