What is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus (commonly called just diabetes) is a disease that prevents your body from properly using energy from food. Normally your body breaks down sugar and carbohydrates you eat into glucose, a sugar, so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream as energy for the cells in your body. Your cells also need insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, in your bloodstream in order for the glucose to be used as energy. When you have diabetes, your body either can’t use the insulin being produced or it isn’t producing enough—or a combination of both.

Type of Diabetes

If you have just been diagnosed with diabetes, you may have a lot of questions about your condition. One thing to know is there are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. The more common is type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is commonly diagnosed in people younger than 20, but can be diagnosed in people of any age. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are damaged. With type 1 diabetes the pancreas produces little to no insulin, which prevents sugar from getting into the body’s cells for use as energy. This causes blood sugar levels to rise, resulting in high glucose levels (known as hyperglycemia). People with type 1 diabetes have to use insulin injections to control their blood sugar levels.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is commonly found in overweight people over the age of 45. People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but it is either not enough or it doesn’t work as needed to help break down glucose to be used as energy. This causes blood sugar levels to rise.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women who have never had diabetes but their blood glucose levels are high during pregnancy. This is temporary and most common late in pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes are not able to use all of the insulin needed during pregnancy. This means the glucose cannot leave the blood to be converted to energy, resulting in hyperglycemia. Not all drugs can be prescribed in pregnancy, so we carefully treat and monitor women affected by gestational diabetes, in partnership with their gynecologists. These women are monitored from diagnosis through post-birth to ensure the safety of the women and their children.

Why is Diabetes a Serious Condition?

Some people become very ill with diabetes. They may have problems such as dehydration or infection. If diabetes is untreated for many months or years, the blood vessels and nerves in your body can also become damaged. This can lead to problems such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, eye damage, and problems with circulation and feeling in the feet. It is important to keep blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels as close to normal as possible to help prevent complications.

What Are the Risk Factors of Developing Diabetes?

Risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Age (being over the age of 45)
  • A family history of diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Low HDL (or “good”) cholesterol and high triglyceride levels
  • Diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
  • Certain ethnic backgrounds

Illness, infection, surgery, and stress can also increase your blood sugar level. Sometimes diabetes develops even when you are at a healthy weight and no one else in your family has it.


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