What is diabetes?


Diabetes is a condition in which sugar (glucose) remains in the blood rather than entering the body's cells to be used for energy. This results in high blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can damage many body systems.

Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst and frequent urination (especially at night); unexplained increase in appetite; unexplained weight loss; fatigue; erection problems; blurred vision; and tingling, burning, or numbness in the hands or feet.

People who have high blood sugar over a long period of time are at increased risk for many serious health problems, including hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and heart problems, eye problems that can lead to blindness, circulation and nerve problems, and kidney disease and kidney failure.

Women with diabetes and high blood sugar who become pregnant have an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

Diabetes is treated with healthy eating, lifestyle changes, and medicines. If blood sugar levels are kept within the recommended range, the risk for many complications from diabetes decreases.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Often diabetes doesn't cause symptoms. If it does, you may feel very thirsty or very hungry. You may also urinate more often than usual, have blurry vision, or lose weight without trying. These symptoms are caused by high blood sugar. In type 1 diabetes, symptoms may develop quickly, over a few days to weeks.

What are the differences between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes?

There are many differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. But in both types of diabetes, blood sugar levels get too high. This increases the risk for complications, such as blindness and kidney failure. For both diseases, treatment focuses on keeping blood sugar levels within a target range to help prevent long-term complications.

Differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

What occurs:

The body's immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. In time, the pancreas stops making insulin. Without insulin, cells can't absorb sugar (glucose), which they need to produce energy.

The body isn't able to use insulin the right way. This is called insulin resistance. As type 2 diabetes gets worse, the pancreas may make less and less insulin. This is called insulin deficiency.

Age when it starts:

Symptoms usually start in childhood or young adulthood.

It can develop at any age. It's usually discovered in adulthood. But the number of children with type 2 diabetes is rising.


People often seek medical help because they are seriously ill from sudden symptoms of high blood sugar.

People may not have symptoms before diagnosis.

Low blood sugar episodes:

Episodes of low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia) are common.

There are no episodes of low blood sugar level, unless the person is taking insulin or certain diabetes medicines.

How common:

Type 1 accounts for 5 to 10 out of 100 people who have diabetes.

Type 2 accounts for the vast majority of people who have diabetes—90 to 95 out of 100 people.


It can't be prevented.

It can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle. This includes staying at a healthy weight, eating sensibly, and exercising regularly.

How is diabetes treated?

Diabetes treatment focuses on keeping your blood sugar levels in your target range. For type 1 diabetes, that involves taking insulin, eating healthy foods, and getting regular exercise. For type 2 diabetes, medicines may be prescribed, along with following a healthy meal plan, exercising, and losing weight if you need to.

What criteria do doctors use to diagnose diabetes?

Doctors use blood tests and follow guidelines from experts to diagnose diabetes. You will be diagnosed with diabetes if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You have symptoms of diabetes and a blood sugar level equal to or greater than 200 mg/dL on a random blood sugar test. Symptoms include increased thirst, increased urination, and unexplained weight loss.
  • Your fasting blood sugar level is equal to or greater than 126 mg/dL.
  • Your 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) result is equal to or greater than 200 mg/dL.
  • Your hemoglobin A1c test result is 6.5% or higher.

Two tests are used to confirm the diagnosis of diabetes.

You may be diagnosed with prediabetes if your blood sugar is above normal but not high enough to be diabetes. Ask your doctor how often you need to be tested.

What are possible side effects of taking ACE inhibitors and ARBs for diabetes?

All medicines can cause side effects.

Some side effects of ACE inhibitors include:

  • Low blood pressure. You may feel dizzy and weak.
  • A dry cough.
  • High potassium levels.
  • Swelling of your lips, tongue, or face. If the swelling is severe, you may need treatment right away. Severe swelling can make it hard to breathe, but this is rare.

Some side effects of ARBs include:

  • Low blood pressure. You may feel dizzy and weak.
  • High potassium levels.

You may have other side effects or reactions not listed here. Check the information that comes with your medicine.

Who is involved in your diabetes care?

Health professionals who may be involved in your diabetes care include:

  • A family medicine physician or a general practitioner.
  • An internist.
  • A pediatrician.
  • A nurse practitioner (NP) or a physician assistant (PA).
  • A certified diabetes educator (CDE).
  • A registered dietitian (RD). They can help make a daily plan for you or your child and your family.
  • An endocrinologist or pediatric endocrinologist.
  • A psychologist. This doctor can help with emotional or family issues that might affect you or your child's treatment.
  • An exercise specialist. They can help you and your family plan a program of regular physical activity.

If you have signs of complications of diabetes, such as nerve problems or kidney problems, you may be referred to a specialist.

How Others Manage Diabetes

How can you stay motivated to manage your diabetes?

It can be hard to stay motivated to manage your diabetes well. These ideas may help.

Focus on the positive.

Give yourself credit for the things you do now to manage your diabetes. They can make a big difference in your quality of life now and in the future.

Help yourself succeed.

Set short-term, healthy goals that you can reach. Celebrate success with nonfood rewards, like a movie night.

Get support.

Surround yourself with people who encourage and motivate you. This could be friends, family, an exercise buddy, or an organized diabetes support group. Keep in touch with your doctors.

Keep the disease in perspective.

Remember that diabetes is a part of your life, but it doesn't have to take over your life.

Diabetes: How can you manage changes in your routine?

When you have a busy or stressful schedule, it can be hard to find time to exercise, eat right, and care for yourself. This can affect your blood sugar. So even if you're busy, it's important to fit in time for things like blood sugar checks, medicines, and maintaining healthy habits.

Here are some ideas.

Plan for a healthy lifestyle.

Plan your meals and lunches each week. Keep healthy snacks with you. Try fitting in some short walks every day.

Remember your medicines and supplies.

Try putting supplies, like your blood sugar meter or medicines, in a small bag you can keep with you.

Plan for travel.

Take extra medicine, healthy snacks, and all your supplies. Try to eat and take your medicine as close to your regular schedule as you can.

Plan for schedule changes.

If you know you'll have changes in your schedule, make a plan for how to deal with them.

What exercises are safe when you have diabetes?

Walking, running, bike riding, and swimming are great for most people with diabetes. But some activities may not be safe. Before you start a new exercise program, talk to your doctor about how and when to exercise. Your doctor can tell you what types of exercise are good choices for you.

How do you prepare for your child's surgery when your child has diabetes?

Surgery can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Check your child's blood sugar often in the hours before the surgery.
  • You will get exact instructions about when your child should stop eating before the surgery. It's important for your child to have an empty stomach before surgery. But this can also lead to low blood sugar.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctors ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies your child takes. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia. Your doctor will tell you which medicines your child should take or stop before the procedure.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before surgery. This includes over-the-counter medicines.

How does being sick affect you when you have diabetes?

When you're sick, your body releases hormones to fight infection. But these hormones raise blood sugar. They also make it harder for insulin to lower blood sugar. When you have diabetes, even a minor illness can lead to very high blood sugar. This may cause a dangerous problem, like diabetic ketoacidosis.

When should you see a certified diabetes educator?

It can be helpful to see a diabetes educator at certain points in your care. He or she can:

  • Get you started when you're first diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Check in once a year for a review of your health and daily routine.
  • Show you how to handle a new health problem along with your diabetes.
  • Help you work with a new health care team.

Diabetes: How to work through problems

As you likely know, diabetes can bring challenges that you need to manage. A process called problem-solving can help you discover your own path forward.

Problem-solving can help you work through challenges or help you reach goals using your own ideas. Maybe you'd like to eat in a healthier way. Or maybe you're having a hard time paying for your medicine. These are the kinds of problems where problem-solving is helpful.

Problem-solving is about discovering ways to help you feel in control of your diabetes—no matter what comes up.

  1. Write down your problem or goal.

    The first step in the problem-solving process is to write down a problem, issue, or goal that you want to work on but are having a hard time with. Sometimes there may be a few things that are getting in your way.

    Example: "I'm having a hard time eating well. I am busy, don't get a break, and can't afford prepackaged, healthy food."

  2. Think of solutions.

    The next step is to list all possible solutions. These are your ideas—no matter how big or small. Try to come up with a few ideas, and think about the pros and cons of each.

    Example: "I can prepare healthy food that's easy to eat and take to work."

    • Pro: "I'll have healthy food to take to work and can save money by not eating out for lunch."
    • Con: "I'll have to take weekend time to plan, shop, and prepare meals." "I'll miss eating out with my coworkers."
  3. Try one solution.

    Your last step in the process is to review the list of possible solutions.

    Which one seems the most doable or do you feel the most confident about?

    Now pick just one idea to try. If you can, think about what will help you feel just a little more confident about getting started. Write that down too.

    Example: "On the weekends, I will prepare food for the coming week. I'll stick to my plan better if I like the food I take, so I'll search online for recipes."

When you've done this last step, you have a plan to solve your challenges or reach your goals.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which sugar stays in the blood instead of entering the body's cells, where it can be used for energy. This results in high blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can harm many parts of the body. The most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2.

How are diabetes, heart attack, and stroke connected?

Experts don't fully know how diabetes affects the heart and blood vessels. Many things can lead to a heart attack or stroke. These things include high blood sugar, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Lifestyle and genetics may also play a part.

How do you care for your teeth and gums when you have diabetes?

  • Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Floss daily. Make sure to press the floss against your teeth and not your gums.
  • Check each day for areas where your gums might be red or painful. Be sure to let your dentist know of any sores in your mouth.
  • See your dentist regularly for professional cleaning of your teeth and to look for gum problems. Many dentists recommend getting checkups twice a year. Remind your dentist that you have diabetes before any work is done.
  • Don't smoke or use smokeless tobacco. Tobacco use with diabetes can lead to a greater risk of severe gum disease. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

How can you eat out and still eat healthy when you have diabetes?

  • Learn to estimate the serving sizes of foods that have carbohydrate. If you measure food at home, it will be easier to estimate the amount in a serving of restaurant food.
  • If the meal you order has too much carbohydrate (such as potatoes, corn, or baked beans), ask to have a low-carbohydrate food instead. Ask for a salad or non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, or peppers.
  • If you eat more carbohydrate at a meal than you had planned, take a walk or do other exercise. This will help lower your blood sugar.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.