Diabetes Overview

Key Terms

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that impacts how your body turns food into energy.  It is a metabolic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin or if the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces. 

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. 

Glucose is the main type of sugar in the blood and is the major source of energy for the body’s cells.  It comes mainly from carbohydrates in food and beverages.


The American Diabetes Association recommends regular blood glucose screening for anyone over the age of 35.  A blood glucose test may also be recommended if a person has symptoms of high blood sugar, including:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing of wounds


Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes was once called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes.  It is more common in children and young adults but can develop at any age.  T1D is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks itself by mistake, destroying the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. There may also be a genetic component that makes individuals more likely to develop T1D. 

An individual may not show symptoms for years and sometimes the symptoms can be very severe.


Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more common, with more than 10% of the US population sharing the diagnosis.  Those with T2D have cells that are insulin resistant, causing the pancreas to increase insulin production and raising blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can lead to severe health problems, including heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. 

Symptoms can develop over many years and can easily go unnoticed. 


Gestational Diabetes

A less common form of diabetes develops during pregnancy, called gestational diabetes.  It occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy.  It is also known to increase the risk of having a large baby, which can make delivery more difficult and sometimes leads to a C-section birth.  Babies are also at higher risk of being born early, having low blood sugar, or developing type 2 diabetes.  Many women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes.

There are typically no symptoms for gestational diabetes.



When an individual has high blood sugar that is below the threshold of type 2 diabetes, they may be diagnosed with prediabetes.  Nearly 1/3 of all Americans have prediabetes, most of whom are not aware that they have it. 

Symptoms of prediabetes include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having an immediate relative with T2D
  • Being over the age of 45
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Ever having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a large baby (9 lbs. or more)
  • Having PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)

Those who are African America, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, or Asian/Pacific Islander are at higher risk of developing prediabetes. 



The good news about a diagnosis of prediabetes is that an individual has the opportunity to prevent type 2 diabetes by implementing basic lifestyle changes.  Their medical provider might recommend:

  • Physical activity just 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week
  • Weight loss of 5-10% body weight
  • Implementing a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein
  • Increasing daily water consumption and eliminating sugary drinks like soda
  • Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption


Testing for Diabetes

Testing for diabetes is done with very simple blood tests.  There are a few options that a medical provider may order, including:

  • Fasting Blood Sugar Test: This test measures blood sugar after an overnight fasting period
  • Glucose Tolerance Test: This measures blood sugar before and after drinking a liquid that contains glucose and is done after an overnight fasting period
  • A1C Test: This measures your average blood sugar over the past 2-3 months and can be done without fasting
  • Random Blood Sugar Test: This measures blood sugar at the time of testing and does not require fasting



There is no cure for diabetes.  The treatment plans vary depending on the type of diabetes and the individual.  If you have any of the above symptoms or risk facts, you should see your medical provider and discuss testing and treatment options.  For many individuals, diabetes is manageable with medication and healthy lifestyle changes.  It is also possible for type 2 diabetes to go into remission with successful treatment.

Untreated diabetes can lead to severe health issues, such as diabetic ketoacidosis, nerve damage, kidney problems, heart disease, and stroke. 


Diabetes rates continue to increase across the United States.  Knowing the symptoms and risk factors and undergoing regular testing can help prevent diabetes.  Diabetes can often be managed through medication and a healthy lifestyle.  For more information on diabetes and your risk factors, talk to your medical provider.