What is diabetes?

Lada Flynn, MS, ANP, Department of Endocrinology/Diabetes Management

Dictionary Series - Health: diabetesThe human body—or, more specifically, the cells that make up our body—uses a sugar called glucose as a primary source of energy. After eating, glucose enters the blood stream and is absorbed by the body. The body then uses a hormone called insulin to help deliver glucose from the blood stream to individual cells. When the body does not make enough insulin or does not respond to the insulin it produces, the result is a high concentration of glucose in the blood stream (high blood sugar) and a chronic metabolic disorder called diabetes mellitus, or simply diabetes.

There are two main types of diabetes.

  • In people with type 1 diabetes, the body has stopped making insulin completely or makes very small amounts of insulin. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder most often diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults; however, occasionally people in their 40s, 50s and even 60s can develop type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections regularly to maintain the correct blood sugar level.
  • Type 2 diabetes is the result of lower insulin secretion and insulin resistance, and is usually diagnosed in adults. This type of diabetes can be treated with oral medications, insulin or non-insulin injectable medications. Approximately 90 percent of people with diabetes have type 2.

Other types of diabetes include gestational diabetes, which develops during pregnancy, and steroid-induced diabetes, which can occur in people taking medications such as prednisone. Family history of diabetes also increases a person’s chance of developing the disease.

It is important that people with diabetes take an active role in their health care. Though type 1 and type 2 diabetes are chronic diseases, they may be controlled with insulin injections or other medications. High blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity, smoking and lack of regular exercise can negatively affect a diabetes patient’s overall health.

Visit dukeregional.org to learn more about outpatient nutrition and diabetes education services at Duke Regional.

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