Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the body has trouble using the sugar it gets from food for energy. Sugar builds up in the bloodstream. High blood sugar can have immediate effects, like blurry vision. It can also cause problems over time, like heart disease and blindness.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes (once called juvenile-onset diabetes) and type 2 diabetes (once called adult-onset diabetes). Both are caused by problems making or using insulin, a hormone that makes it possible for cells to use glucose, also known as blood sugar, for energy.

When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose. It also produces a hormone called insulin that signals the body's cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't make enough insulin, or stops making it altogether. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body's cells don't respond to insulin. Either way, since sugar can't get into cells, it builds up in the bloodstream. 

Too much sugar in the blood can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms. These include:

  • blurry vision
  • intense thirst
  • need to urinate often
  • fatigue
  • numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Type 1 diabetes often comes on suddenly. It usually strikes children and teenagers, but can appear later in life. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning it happens because the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the body's insulin-making cells. Type 1 diabetes can't be cured, but it can be managed by taking insulin before eating.

Type 2 diabetes takes longer to develop. It can begin any time from childhood onward. Type 2 diabetes is usually triggered by being overweight or obese and not getting much physical activity. Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes weight loss if needed, daily exercise, a healthy diet, and medications.

Diabetes Articles

When walking makes your legs hurt

There are other conditions besides arthritis that can make walking difficult and even painful, such as peripheral artery disease, chronic venous insufficiency, lumbar spinal stenosis, and diabetic neuropathy. More »

10 steps for coping with a chronic condition

Dealing with the pain and aggravation of a broken bone or burst appendix isn't easy. But at least there's an end in sight. Once the bone or belly heals, you're pretty much back to normal. That's not true for high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, or other chronic conditions. With no "cure" in sight, they usually last a lifetime. You can live with a chronic condition day to day, responding to its sometimes swiftly changing symptoms and problems. Or you can take charge and manage the disease instead of letting it rule you. More »

Diabetes Update: 2002

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 8% of adults in the United States. An additional 10 million Americans are at high risk for the disease. This type of diabetes begins gradually, later in life. Most people with type 2 diabetes produce plenty of insulin, but their tissues resist the action of the hormone, so their blood sugar levels rise; some people develop the disease as their insulin production gradually slows down. Although treatment may prevent some complications of type 2 diabetes, which can include atherosclerosis, vision impairment, and nerve damage, it cannot eliminate the condition altogether. As a result, prevention of type 2 diabetes remains preferable. In a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), researchers from the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group sought to determine whether lifestyle intervention or drug treatment could be used to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. The researchers gathered 3,234 subjects who they determined to be at high risk for diabetes based on elevated blood sugar levels. They assigned the subjects to one of three interventions: twice-daily treatment with 850 mg of metformin (a drug commonly used to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes), lifestyle intervention, or placebo. The goal of the lifestyle intervention was to achieve a weight reduction of at least 7% of initial body weight through a low-fat, low-calorie diet, and to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. As measured by the researchers, the lifestyle intervention group achieved much greater weight loss and increased their physical activity level more than the metformin or placebo groups. More »