Diabetes: Basic Facts

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way the body turns sugar into energy.


How the Body Turns Sugar into Energy

The food we eat is made up carbohydrates, protein and fat. The body changes all of the carbohydrates and some of the protein and fat into a sugar called glucose when we eat. (Glucose is the energy the cells of the body needs to work). The glucose is absorbed into the blood and then travels into all the body cells.

The pancreas is an organ just next to the stomach that makes a hormone called insulin. Insulin is released by the pancreas help move sugar/glucose from the blood into the cells. The cells keep this glucose for immediate use of energy or store it for later use.

What happens when you have diabetes?


Diabetes occurs when the body either does not make enough insulin or does not use insulin properly. This results in sugar that stays in the blood, unable to enter the cells and provide the body with the energy it needs. The high level of sugar in the blood can result in serious injury to the body.


What are the types of diabetes?

Three types of diabetes are the most common.

Type 1 diabetes

In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not MAKE insulin. Sugar levels become very high as it is unable to enter the cells. This is known as high blood glucose or hyperglycemia. Most often children and young adults get Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin. However, the insulin is not effective. This is also known as insulin resistance. The resulting problem is the same, with high blood glucose or hyperglycemia.

People who tend to get Type 2 diabetes are:

  • Overweight or obese people
  • People with a family history of diabetes
  • People who have had a baby with a birth weight over 9lbs
  • Certain races
    • African Americans
    • Hispanics
    • Asians
    • Pacific Islanders
    • Native Americans

Diabetes during pregnancy

Pregnant women may develop gestational diabetes due to insufficient insulin production during pregnancy. After delivery of the fetus, gestational diabetes goes away. Unfortunately, some women may develop diabetes after pregnancy.

Secondary diabetes

This is when high blood glucose can be a result of other diseases or medications. Some chemotherapy drugs and psychiatric medications can result in this. Steroids can also cause this problem. Secondary diabetes is usually treated with insulin, a sound nutrition plan, and monitoring. This condition usually resolves once the medications are stopped.


Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Passing water (urinating) often
  • Cuts or sores that don’t heal well

A person with Type 2 diabetes may have some or none of these symptoms.

Diagnosing Diabetes

Blood glucose tests are the main way to learn if you have diabetes. Normal glucose level is 70-99 mg/dL after fasting. After eating, blood glucose can be high but rarely over 200mg/dl.

The American Diabetes Association lists the following ways to tell if a person has diabetes:

  • A person has symptoms of diabetes and a high blood glucose level (200 or higher) on a blood glucose test.
  • A person has a fasting blood glucose level of 126 or higher. For a fasting blood glucose test, the person does not eat or drink for at least 8 hours before blood is taken.
  • A person has a blood glucose level of 200 or higher after drinking a special sugar solution. This test is called an oral glucose tolerance test.
  • A person has an A1c level of 6.5% or higher (this test shows the estimated average blood glucose level over the past 2-3 months).

Your doctor may repeat a test to confirm a diagnosis of diabetes unless diabetes is clear based on other signs and symptoms.

If You Have Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you should try to get and keep your blood glucose level as close to normal as possible. It’s good to have a blood glucose level between 70 to 130 during the day before eating. At bedtime, the goal is to have blood glucose at 110 to 150. The goal for A1c is less than 7%. Ask your doctor what your personal goals should be.


If You are at Risk for Diabetes

Sometimes a person has blood glucose higher than normal, but not high enough to have diabetes. This condition is called impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance. The person does not yet have diabetes, but is at risk for getting diabetes. This is sometimes called prediabetes. If you have this condition, ask your doctor what to do about your blood glucose.



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