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Diabetes Information and Prevention

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is usually a lifelong (chronic) disease. People who have diabetes are not able to properly absorb food to be used as energy. This results in high levels of sugar in the blood. High blood sugar and high blood glucose mean the same thing.

Food that is eaten is broken down to be used by the body. Carbohydrates are broken down into small sugar particles called glucose. This glucose enters the blood and flows throughout the body to be used as energy. To move glucose through the body, insulin is needed. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. People with diabetes do not produce enough insulin, or their body does not use insulin properly. Some people suffer from both. This makes the body unable to move glucose into the body's cells. It stays in the blood stream and results in high blood glucose levels.

What causes diabetes?

There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. Type 2 diabetes is the most common.

 

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by a combination of genetics, or heredity, and environmental factors. Experts are not clear on what environmental factors cause Type 1 diabetes. People with Type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin. Their immune systems attack and destroy cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

Type 2 diabetes

Being overweight is strongly linked to developing type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight. People with type 2 diabetes build up extra glucose in the blood because the body's cells become resistant to insulin. The pancreas does not make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Without insulin, sugar cannot move to the cells where it is needed for energy. Heredity and environmental factors can affect whether type 2 diabetes develops.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. The hormones produced by the placenta make cells more resistant to insulin. Usually, the pancreas produces enough extra insulin to overcome insulin resistance. Sometimes the pancreas cannot keep up. Extra glucose builds up in the bloodstream, causing gestational diabetes.

Pre-diabetes

The term "borderline diabetic" is often used to refer to those with pre-diabetes. People diagnosed with pre-diabetes have higher than normal blood sugar, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Those with pre-diabetes may get type 2 diabetes soon or sometime in the future. They are also more likely to get heart disease or have a stroke. People with pre-diabetes can change their eating habits and physical activity levels to reverse pre-diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented.

Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes risk factors

Some factors increase your risk of developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Some factors can be changed. Other factors, like family history and age, cannot. You are at risk for diabetes if you:

  • carry extra weight, especially around the waist 
  • are physically inactive 
  • have a family member with type 2 diabetes 
  • are African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander 
  • are age 40 or over 
  • have had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) 
  • have high blood pressure (over 140/90 mm/Hg) 
  • have low HDL cholesterol (35 mg/dl or lower) 
  • have high triglycerides (250 mg/dl or higher)

Pre-diabetes: How can you prevent type 2 diabetes?  

It's not too late to prevent diabetes

American Diabetes Association

To find diabetes education programs near you, contact your local county extension office