The cells in your body need a steady source of energy to function. They get it from a simple sugar called glucose that is released when the food you eat is broken down. But glucose can’t get into your cells on its own. It needs the help of insulin, a hormone produced by the beta cells of your pancreas.
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease that develops when your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin or your body can’t use insulin efficiently, a condition called insulin resistance. Without insulin, glucose builds up in your bloodstream and your cells are starved of the energy they need to survive. This can lead to complications with your eyes, heart, kidneys and nerves. In severe cases, it can lead to coma and death.
The National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020, released by the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, revealed that 34.2 million Americans – just over 1 in 10 – have diabetes. Another 88 million – approximately 1 in 3 American adults – have prediabetes, a condition in which your blood glucose level is high but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. More than 84 percent of people with prediabetes don’t know they have it.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational.
With type 1 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin because your immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys its beta cells. People with this type must take supplemental insulin every day. Type 1 is typically diagnosed in children, adolescents and young adults, but can occur at any age. About 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1.
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. It affects up to 10 percent of pregnant women in the US each year. With gestational diabetes, the placenta — which provides oxygen and nutrients for the growing baby – produces hormones that block the action of the mother’s insulin. It can lead to complications for the mother and baby.
In many cases, gestational diabetes can be treated effectively with diet and exercise alone. But in other cases, the mother must take oral diabetes medications or insulin injections to stabilize her blood glucose levels. Gestational diabetes typically resolves after the mother gives birth, but she is at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, affecting 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes. It is typically diagnosed in people 45 years old and older and is characterized by insulin resistance. This type is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. You are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of diabetes, are overweight or obese, are physically inactive or have prediabetes.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include: increased hunger or thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, blurry vision, extreme fatigue and sores that are slow to heal. The diagnosis is generally made using a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, A1C test or random plasma glucose (RPG) test. These tests measure the level of glucose in your blood. A consistently high level indicates diabetes.
Treatment for type 2 diabetes begins with lifestyle changes. These include eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein such as poultry and fish. You should also avoid saturated and trans fats, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and stop smoking. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your glucose level, you may need to take medication or insulin.
By living a healthy lifestyle – eating properly, exercising regularly, not smoking and taking your medication as needed – you can manage your blood glucose and defeat diabetes!