General Information

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood stream because the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Glucose comes from the food we eat and is needed by our bodies to produce energy. Insulin is made by cells in the pancreas and moves glucose from our bloodstream into our cells. The goal of a person with diabetes should be to lower their blood sugar levels and improve their body’s use of insulin.

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Did You Know?

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates that 30.3 million people (9.4% of the U.S. population) had diabetes in 2015. Of those with diabetes, 7.2 million people do not know they have it.
  • Estimates also suggested that of those age 65 years old and older, over 25% have diabetes and some maybe unaware they have the condition.
  • It was reported that 7.2 million hospital discharges and 14.2 million emergency department visits in the United States were reported to have had diabetes as a listed diagnosis in 2014 (data only included U.S. adults aged 18 years or older).
  • Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and Alabama in 2014 and 2015.
  • Worldwide, the estimate of diabetes prevalence among adults has doubled since 1980; it is projected that diabetes will become the seventh-leading cause of death in the world by 2030.
  • By having diabetes, adults are at a higher risk of blindness, kidney problems, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Diabetes is a leading cause of non-traumatic amputations in the United States.
  • Diabetes is also costly. Individuals with diabetes have higher medical costs than those without diabetes.

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What is Prediabetes?

  • CDC estimates that 84.1 million adults have prediabetes in the United States and that 9 in 10 of those people do not know they have the condition.
  • Prediabetes is a condition in which individuals have blood glucose or A1c levels higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. People with prediabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Studies have shown that people with prediabetes who lose weight and increase their physical activity can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and in some cases return their blood glucose levels to normal.
  • Prediabetes (American Diabetes Association)
  • Attending a structured lifestyle change program can decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes for those with prediabetes.

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What are the Different Types of Diabetes?

1) Type 1

(previously called juvenile-onset diabetes)

  • Also referred to as Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM).
  • 10% of all diabetes cases are type 1.
  • Is a genetic disease or caused by contracting certain viruses.
  • Insulin is produced by cells in the pancreas. In people with type 1, the body does not produce insulin adequately, so they must take daily injections of insulin.
  • Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children or young adults who are thin or normal weight for height.

2) Type 2

(previously called adult-onset diabetes)

  • Also referred to as Non- Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM).
  • 90% of all diabetes cases are type 2.
  • Is not a genetic disorder.
  • People with type 2 diabetes are usually over 45 years old, have a family history of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes (for women who had high blood sugar during pregnancy), and are generally overweight.
  • Occurs most often in Native- Americans, Hispanic/ Latinos, and African- Americans.

3) Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM)

  • Only seen in pregnant women with high blood sugar.
  • Have a 50% risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

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Common Symptoms

Type 1:

(can occur suddenly and be potentially life-threatening)

  • extreme thirst
  • increased appetite
  • frequent urination
  • little or no energy
  • rapid weight loss

Type 2

(occur more gradually, but could be dangerous)

  • thirstier than usual
  • frequent urination
  • always tired
  • weight gain or loss
  • frequent infections and/or slow healing
  • dry, itchy skin
  • blurry vision

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Common Terms Associated with Diabetes

  • Fasting Glucose – blood glucose level before eating a meal.
  • Hypoglycemia – a lower than normal blood glucose with symptoms but reads 70 to 110 for people with diabetes.
  • Hyperglycemia – a higher than normal blood glucose reading ranging from 140 to 180 one to two hours after a meal for people with diabetes.
  • Gestational Diabetes – a form of diabetes that only affects women during pregnancy. After delivery blood sugars return to normal.
  • Oral Agents – medications that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin or enable the body’s cells to use insulin more effectively (ex: Glucophage).
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a condition usually seen in patients with type 1 diabetes, occurs when the body has a severe deficiency of insulin. This causes a build up of glucose and acid in the blood which causes the person to become comatose. Symptoms of DKA include abdominal pain, confusion, dehydration, fatigue, and a fruity odor of the breath.
  • Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar Non-Ketotic Syndrome (HHNS) is a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels (360mOsm/L) with enough insulin present and effective to allow some cellular glucose uptake and metabolism to prevent ketosis. Symptoms of HHNS include thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, and confusion.

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Complications of Uncontrolled Blood Sugar

Short-Term

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) - Type 1 mostly
  • Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar Non-Ketotic Syndrome (HHNS) -Type 2 mostly

Long-Term

  • Retinopathy which can cause poor vision and blindness and other eye conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Nephropathy – kidney failure
  • Neuropathy – nerve damage, tingling in extremities (feet, legs)
  • Heart attacks and congestive heart failure
  • Amputation of extremities due to infections

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Helpful Ways to Control Diabetes

  • Exercise five or more times a week for at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise helps to increase insulin’s ability to function correctly.
  • Check your blood sugar often.
  • Follow your diabetes meal plan as given by your dietitian, physician, or healthcare provider. (Visit Recipes for Healthy Living for tips on preparing healthy meals.)
  • A healthy diet consists of several helpings of fruits and vegetables per day. Consult this vegetable ranking to see which ones pack the highest nutritional punch.
  • Increasing the coverage of lifestyle interventions, e.g. physical activity and pharmacological interventions for diabetes, should be a priority in states with a high diabetes prevalence.

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Resources for Diabetes Education


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Page last updated: September 7, 2017