Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes is a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors appear to play roles.

There are two major types of diabetes: type 1 (about 5 percent of all cases), and type 2 (95 percent of all cases). Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy, affecting up to 18% of all pregnancies in the United States.

Type 1  diabetes typically develops during childhood, though it can be diagnosed at any age. It occurs when the body destroys its own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.  Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugars, starches and other food into the energy we need to live. Therefore, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to stay alive.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t properly use the insulin it does produce to convert food into energy. Typically, type 2 diabetes affects people who are overweight or obese and those who are aging. However, it can also be diagnosed in those at normal body weight who are genetically predisposed because of family history. And, in recent decades, a growing number of children have been diagnosed with type 2, due to a rising epidemic of obesity among American youth.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, and typically resolves after the baby is born. However, this type of diabetes places both mother and baby at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. If left untreated, gestational diabetes can lead to high birth weight babies and cause complications during delivery.

There is also something called prediabetes, which is the condition that precedes type 2 diabetes. This is diagnosed when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Research shows that, with lifestyle change, such as diet and increased physical activity, prediabetes can be reversed and a diabetes diagnosis prevented or delayed, so it’s important to take prediabetes seriously.

Diabetes Statistics*: 

• 25.8 million: The estimated number of children and adults in the United States who have diabetes. 
• 79 million: The estimated number of Americans who have prediabetes.
• 1.9 million: The number of new cases of diabetes diagnosed in people aged 20 years or older in 2010.
• 12.6 million: The number of women in the United States who have diabetes.
• Hispanic/Latino Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites
• African Americans are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites
• Based on recently announced diagnostic criteria for gestational diabetes, it is estimated that gestational diabetes affects 18% of pregnancies.
• Prior studies have shown women who have had gestational diabetes are at risk (of up to 60%) for developing diabetes in the next 10 to 20 years.
• 71,382: The number of annual deaths due to diabetes in the United States according to death certificate reports from 2007. Diabetes is listed as a contributing cause of death in an additional 160,022 death certificates, for a total of 231,404 deaths in which diabetes is a primary or contributing factor.

*These statistics were released by the CDC in January 2011

The Toll on Health

• Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.
• Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.
• Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults.
• The rate of amputation for people with diabetes is 10 times higher than for people without diabetes.
• About 60-70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage that could result in pain in the feet or hands, slowed digestion, sexual dysfunction, and other nerve problems.

Common symptoms

A person can live with diabetes for years without knowing it. Some people don’t have any symptoms until they start to develop complications. Others experience symptoms that are so subtle they don’t notice them. Unfortunately, if diabetes goes undiagnosed for too long, it can cause serious damage to the body.

When symptoms do appear, they may include:
• Frequent urination
Excessive thirst
• Unusual weight loss
• Extreme fatigue and irritability
• Blurred vision
• Frequent infections
• Tingling in the hands and feet
• Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal

Are you at risk?

Anybody can develop diabetes, but some people are at higher risk than others. Family history can play a role, so if your mother, father, sister or brother has diabetes, you are at risk as well.

Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include being inactive and overweight or obese; getting older (those over the age of 45 are at greater risk); and belonging to an ethnic group that is at higher risk.

To check out whether you are at low, moderate or high risk for type 2 diabetes, take the free Diabetes Risk Test (in English or Spanish) at diabetes.org/risktest.

It is important to understand that type 2 diabetes and diabetes complications can be prevented or delayed with simple changes in lifestyle.  Learn more.

Source: American Diabetes Association