Everything You Need to Know About Diabetes

Medically Reviewed By Kelly Wood, MD

Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your body either does not make enough insulin or cannot use it properly. It may cause symptoms like frequent hunger and thirst, increased urination, and vision changes. It’s important to treat diabetes as early as possible. Early treatment can prevent complications like nerve and heart damage.

To manage the condition, doctors typically recommend a combination of lifestyle and dietary strategies and medications.

This article discusses diabetes, including its types, symptoms, risk factors, and treatments.

Definition and types

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Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when your body cannot properly use the insulin that is produced.

Insulin is a hormone that helps manage your body’s blood sugar levels. When your body cannot produce insulin or use it properly, it affects how your body turns the food you eat into energy. Your body turns most of what you eat into sugar, called glucose, and releases it into your bloodstream.

When your blood sugar levels increase, it sends a signal to your pancreas to release insulin. This allows your body to use these sugars as energy.

When you have diabetes, this system does not work as it should. Your blood sugar increases to potentially unsafe levels and may lead to further health issues.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels are elevated but aren’t high enough Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source to qualify as type 2 diabetes.

What are the types of diabetes?

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: This type is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. It occurs when your body does not produce insulin as it should. It’s often diagnosed Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in childhood, although people of any age can develop it.
  • Type 2 diabetes: This is the most common Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source type of diabetes. It often affects people over 45 years old. It involves insulin resistance, meaning your body does not use insulin properly.
  • Gestational diabetes: This is a type of diabetes that affects people during pregnancy when the body isn’t able to produce enough insulin. Changes in the body during pregnancy can cause insulin resistance, which increases your body’s insulin requirements. People with gestational diabetes may have a higher risk Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Learn more about the types of diabetes.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of diabetes may vary depending on the type. Some common signs and symptoms include:

Type 1 diabetes may also cause abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms typically develop Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source over a few weeks or months and may be severe.

Type 2 diabetes symptoms may take years Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to become apparent. If you think you may have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, talk with a doctor about regular blood sugar monitoring and other health tests that may help you get an early diagnosis.

Gestational diabetes may not cause Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source any noticeable symptoms. Doctors generally test for it during pregnancy at some point during weeks 24–28.

Learn more about 7 symptoms never to ignore if you have diabetes.

Causes and risk factors

The underlying causes and risk factors of diabetes can vary depending on the type.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is thought to result Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source from an immune system reaction that targets the pancreatic cells that produce insulin.

You may have a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes if you have close family members with the condition or if you’re a child, adolescent, or young adult.

Type 2 diabetes

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a variety of factors may increase your type 2 diabetes risk, including:

Gestational diabetes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source notes that you may have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes if you:

  • have a family history of diabetes
  • have overweight
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • have developed gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • have previously given birth to a baby over 9 pounds
  • are older than 25 years

Diagnosis

A diabetes diagnosis relies on Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source measuring your blood glucose levels. Your doctor can measure these levels through tests such as:

  • Fasting plasma glucose test: For this test, a doctor asks you to fast for a set period. They then draw blood to measure your blood sugar levels.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test: For this test, your doctor draws blood before and after having you consume a drink containing glucose. Analyzing your blood before and after the drink allows your doctor to see how much your blood sugar levels change in response to consuming sugar.
  • A1C test: This test requires blood sugar monitoring over a few months to see how your levels change.
  • Random blood glucose test: Your doctor may also take a blood sample at random to measure your blood sugar levels.

Additional testing may be necessary to determine which type of diabetes you have.

Learn more about prediabetes and diabetes tests.

Treatments

People with type 1 diabetes require Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source daily insulin. You should speak with a doctor to find the best way to administer your insulin. It’s also important for people with type 1 diabetes to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is sometimes treatable Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source with medications, such as metformin (Fortamet). Lifestyle strategies, such as adjusting your diet and getting regular physical activity, are also key components in managing the condition.

Learn more about diabetes treatments to try before insulin.

If you develop gestational diabetes, your doctor typically monitors Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source your blood sugar levels closely. In addition to following an eating plan developed by your doctor and getting safe levels of physical activity, you may need medications like insulin or metformin.

Learn more about the best foods for a person with diabetes.

Complications

Potential complications Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source related to diabetes include:

  • heart and blood vessel damage
  • nerve damage
  • kidney damage
  • skin and mouth conditions
  • osteoporosis
  • vision changes or loss
  • chronic high blood pressure
  • high blood acidity

It’s essential to work closely with a doctor to manage your condition. Proper treatment may help prevent complications.

Learn more about 12 complications of diabetes.

Outlook

Diabetes is a serious condition, but careful management may help slow its progression and improve your quality of life. Keep communicating with your care team to find a treatment plan that works for you.

Learn more about how diabetes affects life expectancy.

Frequently asked questions

Kelly Wood, MD, reviewed the answers to these common questions about diabetes.

Can I prevent diabetes?

It’s not possible to prevent type 1 diabetes.

However, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • eating a balanced diet per your doctor’s instructions
  • getting regular physical activity

Ask your doctor about safe ways to prevent gestational diabetes.

Learn more about how to prevent diabetes.

How does diabetes affect your quality of life?

Having diabetes will affect your life, but it’s a manageable condition. You’ll have to practice certain lifestyle strategies and may have to give yourself insulin or take medication for the rest of your life.

Work closely with a doctor and other healthcare professionals to make living with diabetes easier for you and your loved ones. With proper care and treatment, people with diabetes can still live long and fulfilling lives.

Learn 8 real-life ways to manage diabetes.

Summary

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body produces and uses insulin.

If you experience any symptoms of diabetes or believe you could be at risk of developing the disease, talk with your doctor. If you’ve already received a diabetes diagnosis, ask your doctor about ways to manage the condition and prevent complications.

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Medical Reviewer: Kelly Wood, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Oct 27
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.