Diabetes 101: Your Complete Guide

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Diabetes mellitus, also commonly known as diabetes, is a health condition that develops when your body becomes unable to process sugar normally. It leads to higher-than-normal blood glucose levels, meaning that glucose, which is a type of sugar, builds up in your blood. If left untreated, the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage your organs and other body systems.

Diabetes also has a hormonal component. When you eat, your stomach and small intestine absorb glucose from the food and release the sugar into your bloodstream. Insulin, a hormone your pancreas produces, stimulates other cells to take the glucose from your blood and use it for energy. Typically, your cells absorb that sugar and process it efficiently, lowering your blood sugar in the process. When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make or use insulin properly. Your cells may also have trouble absorbing glucose, depending on the type of diabetes you have. This causes your blood sugar levels to rise, which is known as hyperglycemia.

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is caused mostly by genetics and is due to a functional breakdown of the cells that produce insulin. Often, Type 1 diabetes results in your pancreas producing little or no insulin. Type 2 diabetes has strong links to obesity and typically results from a combination of diet, lifestyle and genetic factors.

Type 2 diabetes is typically diagnosed at an older age, most commonly over the age of 45, whereas Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. Altering your diet and lifestyle can sometimes prevent Type 2 diabetes, but Type 1 cannot be prevented. Symptoms of all types of diabetes are similar. Additionally, leaving all types of diabetes untreated can lead to serious health complications.

According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2018, 34.2 million Americans, which is about 10.5% of the population, had diabetes. Of those 34.2 million, nearly 1.6 million had Type 1 diabetes. Additionally, about 1.5 million people in the United States are diagnosed with diabetes every year — and 7.3 million don’t even know they have it.

These numbers highlight how common this health condition is in the United States, and they also highlight its seriousness. It’s important to learn more about recognizing, preventing and treating diabetes — doing so can empower you to take charge of your health, provide support to a loved one and stay informed about vital public health issues. This guide will equip you with the foundational knowledge you need to better understand a variety of aspects related to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.