Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or think you could have diabetes, you’re probably nervous, confused, and maybe even a little scared. That’s normal, and everyone featured on HealthCentral with a chronic illness felt just like you do now. But we—and they—are here for you. On this page alone, you’ll discover not only the realities and challenges of the condition, but also the best treatments, helpful lifestyle changes, wisdom from people who have been where you are now, and all the critical information to help you not just manage—but thrive. We’re sure you’ve got a lot of questions…and we’re here to answer them.
What Is Diabetes, Anyway?
Everyone’s heard of diabetes. It’s one of the most common chronic diseases in the world and rates are still on the rise. Yet most people don’t fully understand what causes it or how it affects everyday life. Many think that because the disorder is so widespread, it isn’t serious. But if left untreated, diabetes can lead to heart disease, vision loss, and even limb amputation.
At its most basic, diabetes mellitus (the official name) is a group of disorders that cause people to have higher-than-normal levels of sugar—or, glucose—in their blood. Glucose comes from the protein, carbohydrates, and fats that you eat and drink, as well your liver, which makes and stores the substance.
If everything is going according to plan, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin that helps move glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of your body to be used for energy. But if your body is resistant to insulin, or doesn’t make enough of it, the glucose gets stuck hanging out in your blood. That’s when your doc will tell you that you have “high blood sugar.” As time goes on, the extra sugar in your blood causes inflammation and other major health troubles.
About 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, but nearly one quarter of them don’t know it. Let’s take a closer look.
Most Common Types of Diabetes
There are several different types of diabetes and each has its own causes. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis for which form of the disease you have because treatment will differ depending on type. Here are the basics you should know:
Type 1 Diabetes
Also called “insulin-dependent” diabetes or “juvenile” diabetes because it’s often diagnosed in childhood, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks and destroys insulin-making cells in the pancreas. Because of this, your body no longer produces its own insulin, so you need insulin injections every day.
Most people with type 1 diabetes are diagnosed during childhood or young adulthood, but a small number of people may not develop the disease until their 30s, 40s, or even 50s.
Type 2 Diabetes
People with type 2 do produce their own insulin, but their bodies don’t use very well. They are insulin-resistant.
Type 2—also called “adult-onset” or “non-insulin dependent”—diabetes is the most common form of the disease. Between 90% to 95% percent of all people with diabetes have type 2. It usually develops in middle age but is sometimes seen in older kids or teens.