What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when a person’s body doesn’t make enough of the hormone insulin or can’t use insulin properly. There are 2 types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body’s pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or your body’s cells ignore the insulin. Between 90-95% of people who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

When you digest food, your body changes most of the food you eat into glucose (a form of sugar). Insulin allows this glucose to enter all the cells of your body and be used as energy. When you have diabetes, because your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it properly, the glucose builds up in your blood instead of moving into the cells. Too much glucose in the blood can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and damage to the nerves and kidneys.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The early stages of diabetes have very few symptoms, so you may not know you have the disease. But damage may already be happening to your eyes, your kidneys and your cardiovascular system even before you notice symptoms. Symptoms of diabetes may include the following:

If you are regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, call your family doctor right away.

Who is at risk for diabetes?

You are at increased risk for diabetes if:

If you have 1 or more of these risk factors, your doctor may want you to be tested (also called "screened") for diabetes. You might also be screened at a younger age and more often if you have risk factors. Talk to your doctor about your risk of developing diabetes and about a plan for regular testing.

How will I be tested for diabetes?

Screening is usually done with a fasting blood test. You'll be tested in the morning, so you shouldn't eat anything after dinner the night before. A normal blood sugar test result is between 70 and 99 mg per dL. A test result higher than 126 mg per dL suggests diabetes. However, you should have 2 tests that are higher than 126 mg per dL, on 2 different days, before a diagnosis of diabetes is made. Test results from 100 mg per dL to 125 mg per dL suggest prediabetes.

Why is it important for diabetes to be diagnosed early?

Many people have diabetes for years before they show symptoms. By the time they are diagnosed, some people already have eye, kidney, gum or nerve damage caused by diabetes. There's no cure for diabetes, but there are ways for you to stay healthy and reduce the risk of complications. If you exercise, watch your diet, control your weight and take the medicine your doctor may prescribe, you can make a big difference in reducing or preventing the damage that diabetes can do. The earlier you know you have diabetes, the sooner you can make these important lifestyle changes.

Where can I get more information about diabetes?

Your family doctor can tell you how often you should be screened for diabetes. He or she can give you advice about diet, exercise and lifestyle changes that can help manage your diabetes.