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What is diabetes?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Diabetes is a metabolic disorder.

Your body does not produce enough insulin.

Your Marshfield Clinic Endocrinologist diagnoses and treats all forms of diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that means your body does not make enough insulin.

Or it means that your body is not able to use the insulin it makes. Your body needs the hormone insulin to change blood sugar (glucose) into energy.

Without insulin, too much glucose collects in your blood. Diabetes may also be a result of other conditions. These include genetic syndromes, chemicals, medicines, pancreatitis, infections, and viruses.

Diabetes can be 1 of 3 types: type 1, type 2, or gestational. All 3 are metabolic disorders that affect the way the body uses (metabolizes) food to make glucose.

Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body.

What is prediabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is often preceded by prediabetes. In prediabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be defined as diabetes.

But many people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Prediabetes also raises the risk for heart disease and stroke. You can delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle changes. These include losing extra weight if you are overweight and getting more exercise.

If you are overweight, losing 5% to 10% of your weight can make a difference. For exercise, aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 days a week.

How does diabetes affect blood glucose?

Insulin must be present for glucose to be able to move into the cells of the body. Insulin is made by your pancreas. Normally it is readily available to help move glucose into the cells.

When you have diabetes, your pancreas makes too little or no insulin. Or the cells in your body don’t respond to the insulin that’s made.

This causes a buildup of glucose in the blood. The cells in your body, meanwhile, are starving for glucose and do not have enough fuel to work as they should.

The 3 main types of diabetes are similar in the buildup of blood glucose because of problems with insulin. But each has a different cause and treatment:

  • Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body's immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. This means that your body has no or only a small amount of insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day in order to live.

  • Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes happens when the body cannot make enough insulin or is not able to use it properly. Type 2 diabetes may be controlled with diet, exercise, and weight loss, or may need oral medicines or insulin injections.

  • Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Gestational diabetes happens in pregnant women who have not been diagnosed with diabetes in the past. In a woman with gestational diabetes, her body cannot effectively use the insulin that is present. This type of diabetes goes away after delivery. If it does not go away, it was not gestational diabetes but type 1 or 2 diabetes that started during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes may be controlled with diet, exercise, and attention to weight gain. Women with this type of diabetes may need to take medicines to control their glucose. They may be at higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.

Complications of diabetes

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death among Americans. Experts think that many cases of diabetes are not reported as a condition leading to or causing death.

But each year, more than 200,000 deaths are reported as being caused by diabetes or its complications.

Complications of diabetes include eye problems and blindness, heart disease, stroke, neurological problems, amputation, kidney disease, and impotence.

Except for gestational diabetes, diabetes is a chronic, incurable disease that affects nearly every part of the body. It contributes to other serious diseases and can be life-threatening.

Diabetes must be managed under the care of a healthcare provider throughout a person's life. The serious complications of diabetes can be prevented or stopped from progressing with proper care.

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Diabetes: Test Your Knowledge

If you have diabetes, taking steps right away to control it will help you avoid complications that may come up later. This multiple-choice quiz will help you with important answers now. It is based on information from the American Diabetes Association, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the CDC.

1. Diabetes happens because of which of these?
2. Two of the main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. How many people with diabetes have type 2?
3. A certain gland or organ doesn't work right in a person who has type 1 diabetes. Which gland or organ is it?
4. Why is insulin important for your body to use blood sugar?
5. Keeping your diabetes under control early on will help you prevent complications that may come up later. People with diabetes are at increased risk of developing which of these?
6. Why are a healthy diet and regular exercise so important if you have diabetes?
7. Type 1 diabetes happens when your insulin-producing cells called beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed. What destroys them?
8. A diabetic condition can develop as a side effect of some medicines. Which of these can raise blood sugar?
9. Which ethnic groups are most likely to develop type 2 diabetes?