Diabetes is a disease of the blood. People with diabetes (diabetics) have high levels of sugar (glucose) in their blood. Glucose in the blood comes from the foods we eat.

Diabetics must monitor their blood sugar levels, carefully watch their diet, and take insulin or oral medication. Foot problems are associated with the disease. Diabetes can also damage blood vessels and nerves, making diabetics more susceptible to infections. Other organs that are often affected include the kidneys and the eyes.

The human body produces insulin, a hormone, in the pancreas. Insulin controls blood sugar, moving it to your muscles and other bodily cells, where it is used as energy.

Diabetics produce little or no insulin (Type 1 diabetes), or cannot process the insulin in their bodies (Type 2 Diabetes). More than 20 million people in the United States are diabetic. In 2006, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

High levels of blood glucose can cause many health problems, including:

  • Blurry vision
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss

If you or a family member shows signs of either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor immediately. Your doctor can do a quick and easy test to determine diabetes. Early diagnosis can help lead to effective treatment options.

Call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency room if you experience symptoms of extremely low blood sugar:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness

If you have or are worried about diabetes and experience abdominal pain, deep and rapid breathing, nausea, and sweet-smelling breath, call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency room. These could be signs of ketoacidosis—a serious medical complication from diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is not known. Often called “juvenile diabetes,” it usually develops in childhood, though many are diagnosed after age 20. If you have Type 1 diabetes, your pancreas produces little or no insulin, and you must take daily injections of insulin.

Type 1 Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss (despite increased appetite)

Type 2 Diabetes

Often called "adult-onset diabetes"—though it is becoming common even in children. Type 2 diabetes is more common than Type 1. If you have Type 2 diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or your body cannot use the insulin to keep your blood glucose levels normal.

Type 2 Symptoms

  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination

Gestational Diabetes

Some women who are not diabetic develop high blood glucose during pregnancy. If you develop gestational diabetes you are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Living with Diabetes

Developing a diabetes plan with your doctor and following it will help keep you healthy, and help you manage your diabetes. Follow this list of tips on living healthy with diabetes.

  • Monitor Your Blood Glucose: You will be in better control of your diabetes and feel better. You can do this using test strips and a special machine called a glucometer (glucose meter). Your doctor will help you to begin testing, and then work with you to use the results to adjust your diabetes plan (diet, medications) as needed.
  • Ask Your Doctor: Do you know what your blood glucose goals are? Do you know how to test your blood glucose? Do you have questions about your medicines? Ask your doctor at the next visit.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet: Balance your carbohydrates. Choose foods low in fat. Eat regular meals and snacks.
  • Exercise: Before you begin to exercise, talk to your doctor.
  • Get an A1C Test: Get an A1C (blood sugar) test at least twice a year.
  • Get a Feet Exam: Ask your doctor to check your feet. Take off your shoes in the exam room when you're waiting for the doctor.
  • Get a Cholesterol Test: Have your cholesterol checked every year.
  • Get a Kidney Test: Ask your doctor to check your kidneys. This should he updated at least once a year.
  • Get an Eye Exam: Get a dilated eye exam every year. Ask your doctor for a referral to an eye doctor.