Diabetes refers to any disease in which your blood sugar levels are above normal. These high blood sugar levels can occur for several reasons, and the reasons behind the elevated blood sugar usually help your doctor determine what “type” of diabetes you have. Ultimately, however, diabetes usually has to do with insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to regulate glucose, or blood sugar, levels. When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or doesn’t properly use the insulin it does produce, then diabetes is the result.
There are several different types of diabetes. The most common form is type 2 diabetes, accounting for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases. It used to be called “adult-onset diabetes” because it typically develops in adulthood. With type 2 diabetes, the body doesn't use insulin as efficiently as it used to, and high blood sugar is the result. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include family history, ethnic background, old age, obesity and inactivity, among others.
Type 1 diabetes typically starts in childhood and accounts for about 5 percent of all diabetes cases. With type 1 diabetes, the body produces too little insulin or none at all. It is thought to be more of a genetic or environmental disorder and is not preventable, like some cases of type 2 diabetes.
There are rare forms of diabetes, as well. Some women will develop gestational diabetes while pregnant. And there are forms of diabetes known as monogenic diabetes, neonatal diabetes mellitus and maturity-onset diabetes of the young that all seem to be related to some type of genetic disorder.
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Without treatment, it can lead to heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations.
Treatments for diabetes will vary, but most require some combination of healthy eating to regulate blood sugar, regular exercise and medication. Those with type 1 diabetes usually need to take some form of insulin on a regular basis in order to regulate their blood sugar. Medication is not always required for type 2 diabetes, but several forms of medication often help people with type 2 diabetes regulate blood sugar along with a good diet and exercise.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases