What is Diabetes?

Diabetes affects the way the body uses the foods that are eaten. Some of the foods are broken down into glucose (sugar), which then enters the bloodstream. The pancreas, a gland behind your stomach, senses the rise in glucose after eating and releases a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin helps to move the glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. The cells in the body use glucose for energy in the same way a car uses gas as fuel. The cells need a constant supply of energy to live and function. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly move the glucose in the bloodstream into the cells of the body.



Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease results when the body’s system for fighting infection—the immune system—turns against a part of the body. In diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

The pancreas then produces little or no insulin.  Those with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the United States. It develops most often in children and young adults but can appear at any age.

At present, scientists do not know exactly what causes the body’s immune system to attack the beta cells, but they believe that autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors, possibly viruses, are involved. 

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop over a short period, although beta cell destruction can begin years earlier. Symptoms may include increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and extreme fatigue. If not diagnosed and treated with insulin, a person with type 1 diabetes can lapse into a life-threatening diabetic coma, also known as diabetic ketoacidosis.



In type 2 diabetes, the body makes insulin, but it may not be enough or properly used. Either way, too much glucose stays in the bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in older adults, but recently there has been an increase among teenagers. Risks for developing type 2 diabetes are a family history of diabetes, being overweight or obese and lack of physical activity.


Gestational diabetes develops in women during pregnancy. Uncontrolled diabetes during pregnancy can cause harm to the health of the baby. After the baby is born, the mother's blood glucose usually returns to normal. Women who have gestational diabetes are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.


Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG)

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) are intermediate conditions in the transition between normality and diabetes. People with IGT or IFG are at high risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes, although this is not inevitable.



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