What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a general term for a group of metabolic disorders that affect the body’s ability to process and use sugar (glucose) for energy. Normally when you eat, the pancreas, an organ located in the upper abdomen, produces the hormone insulin to move glucose from the bloodstream into cells where it can be used for energy and growth. With diabetes, either the pancreas produces too little or no insulin, or the body’s cells don’t respond to the insulin.

Diabetes deprives the body’s cells of nutrition and leads to an abnormally high level of glucose in the blood (hyperglycemia). Over time, this can result in damage to the blood vessels and organs and premature death. Diabetes can be medically managed to lower the risk of these serious complications.

Diabetes is a common disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23.6 million people in the United States are living with diabetes. That is nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population (Source: CDC).

The three most common forms of diabetes are type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

  • In type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus), the pancreatic cells that produce insulin are destroyed. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable.

  • In type 2 diabetes (adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes), the pancreas produces insulin, but there is not enough insulin or the body’s cells become resistant to its effects. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is preventable in many cases.

  • In gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, the pancreas produces insulin, but pregnancy hormones make the body’s cells more resistant to its effects.

Weight-loss plan for diabetes

Symptoms of diabetes that can indicate a dangerous, potentially life-threatening change in your blood sugar level can occur suddenly and rapidly. Symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, vomiting, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, confusion, sweating, feeling shaky or faint, extreme irritability, or aggressive behavior.

If you have diabetes and experience symptoms of high or low blood sugar, test your blood sugar and follow your treatment plan based on the test results.

Get immediate help (call 911) if you don’t start feeling better quickly, if your symptoms worsen, or if someone you are with has these symptoms.


What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms can vary among individuals and the type of diabetes. Common symptoms include excessive thirst and excessive urination.... Read more about diabetessymptoms


What causes diabetes?

The cause of diabetes varies depending on the type of diabetes.... Read more about diabetescauses


How is diabetes treated?

At this time, there is no cure for diabetes. With regular medical care and consistent compliance with treatment, you can manage diabetes to minimize the risk of serious complications, such as diabetic retinopathy, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.... Read more about diabetestreatments

Medical Reviewer: Williams, Robert MD Last Annual Review Date: Dec 20, 2010 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetes