People with diabetes aim for a hemoglobin A1C level of less than 7%. Achieving this level is difficult, but the lower the hemoglobin A1C level, the less likely people are to have complications. Doctors may recommend a slightly higher or lower target for certain people depending on their particular health situation. However, levels above 9% show poor control, and levels above 12% show very poor control. Most doctors who specialize in diabetes care recommend that hemoglobin A1C be measured every 3 to 6 months.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease caused by inherited and/or acquired deficiency in production of insulin by the pancreas, or by the ineffectiveness of the insulin produced. Such a deficiency results in increased concentrations of glucose in the blood, which in turn damage many of the body's systems, in particular the blood vessels and nerves.

Most people with diabetes should keep a record of their blood glucose levels and report them to their doctor or nurse for advice in adjusting the dose of insulin or the oral antihyperglycemic drug. Many people can learn to adjust the insulin dose on their own as necessary. Some people who have mild or early type 2 diabetes that is well-controlled with one or two drugs may be able to monitor their fingerstick glucose levels relatively infrequently.
Certain genetic markers have been shown to increase the risk of developing Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is strongly familial, but it is only recently that some genes have been consistently associated with increased risk for Type 2 diabetes in certain populations. Both types of diabetes are complex diseases caused by mutations in more than one gene, as well as by environmental factors.
The American Diabetes Association sponsored an international panel in 1995 to review the literature and recommend updates of the classification of diabetes mellitus. The definitions and descriptions that follow are drawn from the Report of the Expert Committee on the Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus. The report was first approved in 1997 and modified in 1999. Although other terms are found in older literature and remain in use, their use in current clinical practice is inappropriate. Epidemiologic and research studies are facilitated by use of a common language.

Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level by promoting the uptake of glucose into body cells. In patients with diabetes, the absence of insufficient production of or lack of response to insulin causes hyperglycemia. Diabetes is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime.


Diabetes mellitus is a diagnostic term for a group of disorders characterized by abnormal glucose homeostasis resulting in elevated blood sugar. It is among the most common of chronic disorders, affecting up to 5–10% of the adult population of the Western world. The prevalence of diabetes is increasing dramatically; it has been estimated that the worldwide prevalence will increase by more than 50% between the years 2000 and 2030 (Wild et al., 2004). It is clearly established that diabetes mellitus is not a single disease, but a genetically heterogeneous group of disorders that share glucose intolerance in common. The concept of genetic heterogeneity (i.e. that different genetic and/or environmental etiologic factors can result in similar phenotypes) has significantly altered the genetic analysis of this common disorder.
That said, some research does suggest that eating too many sweetened foods can affect type 2 diabetes risk, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that 30.3 million Americans have the disease — and that millions of more individuals are projected to develop it, too — understanding all the risk factors for the disease, including sugar consumption, is essential to help reverse the diabetes epidemic.
; DM multiaetiology metabolic disease due to reduced/absent production of pancreatic insulin, and/or insulin resistance by peripheral tissue insulin receptors; characterized by reduced carbohydrate metabolism and increased fat and protein metabolism, leading to hyperglycaemia, increasing glycosuria, water and electrolyte imbalance, ketoacidosis, coma and death if left untreated; chronic long-term complications of DM include nephropathy, retinopathy, neuropathy and generalized degenerative changes in large and small arteries; treatment (with insulin/oral hypoglycaemic agents/diet) aims to stabilize blood glucose levels to the normal range (difficult to achieve fully; patients may tend to hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia due to mismanagement of glycaemic control); Tables D4-D7
The good news is that prevention plays an important role in warding off these complications. By maintaining tight control of your blood glucose—and getting it as close to normal as possible—you’ll help your body function in the way that it would if you did not have diabetes. Tight control helps you decrease the chances that your body will experience complications from elevated glucose levels.
The most common complication of treating high blood glucose levels is low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). The risk is greatest for older people who are frail, who are sick enough to require frequent hospital admissions, or who are taking several drugs. Of all available drugs to treat diabetes, long-acting sulfonylurea drugs are most likely to cause low blood glucose levels in older people. When they take these drugs, they are also more likely to have serious symptoms, such as fainting and falling, and to have difficulty thinking or using parts of the body due to low blood glucose levels.

To understand why insulin is important, it helps to know more about how the body uses food for energy. Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, these cells need food in a very simple form. When you eat or drink, much of the food is broken down into a simple sugar called "glucose." Then, glucose is transported through the bloodstream to these cells where it can be used to provide the energy the body needs for daily activities.
Diabetes can also be diagnosed if a blood glucose level taken any time of the day without regards to meals is 11.1 mmol/L or higher, plus you have symptoms characteristic of diabetes (e.g., increase thirst, increase urination, unexplained weight loss). A doctor may also examine the eyes for signs of damage to the blood vessels of the retina (back of the eye). Finally, diabetes mellitus is diagnosed if the 3-month cumulative blood sugar average test, known as hemoglobin A1C or glycated hemoglobin, is 6.5% or higher.

Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.


In type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes), the body's immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, and more than 90% of them are permanently destroyed. The pancreas, therefore, produces little or no insulin. Only about 5 to 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1 disease. Most people who have type 1 diabetes develop the disease before age 30, although it can develop later in life.

Insulin — the hormone that allows your body to regulate sugar in the blood — is made in your pancreas. Essentially, insulin resistance is a state in which the body’s cells do not use insulin efficiently. As a result, it takes more insulin than normal to transport blood sugar (glucose) into cells, to be used immediately for fuel or stored for later use. A drop in efficiency in getting glucose to cells creates a problem for cell function; glucose is normally the body’s quickest and most readily available source of energy.
Most pediatric patients with diabetes have type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) and a lifetime dependence on exogenous insulin. Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a chronic metabolic disorder caused by an absolute or relative deficiency of insulin, an anabolic hormone. Insulin is produced by the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans located in the pancreas, and the absence, destruction, or other loss of these cells results in type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus [IDDM]). A possible mechanism for the development of type 1 diabetes is shown in the image below. (See Etiology.)
Blurred vision can result from elevated blood sugar. Similarly, fluid that is pulled from the cells into the bloodstream to dilute the sugar can also be pulled from the lenses of your eyes. When the lens of the eye becomes dry, the eye is unable to focus, resulting in blurry vision. It's important that all people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have a dilated eye exam shortly after diagnosis. Damage to the eye can even occur before a diagnosis of diabetes exists.
In Type II diabetes, the pancreas may produce enough insulin, however, cells have become resistant to the insulin produced and it may not work as effectively. Symptoms of Type II diabetes can begin so gradually that a person may not know that he or she has it. Early signs are lethargy, extreme thirst, and frequent urination. Other symptoms may include sudden weight loss, slow wound healing, urinary tract infections, gum disease, or blurred vision. It is not unusual for Type II diabetes to be detected while a patient is seeing a doctor about another health concern that is actually being caused by the yet undiagnosed diabetes.
A second theory, dubbed the hygiene hypothesis, blames the rise of type 1 on a society that's too clean. Good housekeeping and hygiene habits mean far fewer interactions with germs, which in turn may foster an immune system prone to going awry. "In a developing country, you have more infectious disease. This is associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes," says Li Wen, MD, PhD, an immunologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. In her lab, rodents raised in hyper-clean environments are more likely to get type 1 than those reared in dirtier cages.
A study by Mayer-Davis et al indicated that between 2002 and 2012, the incidence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus saw a significant rise among youths in the United States. According to the report, after the figures were adjusted for age, sex, and race or ethnic group, the incidence of type 1 (in patients aged 0-19 years) and type 2 diabetes mellitus (in patients aged 10-19 years) during this period underwent a relative annual increase of 1.8% and 4.8%, respectively. The greatest increases occurred among minority youths. [29]
Insulin is a hormone that — in people without diabetes — ferries glucose, or blood sugar, to cells for energy or to be stored for later use. In people with diabetes, cells are resistant to insulin; as a result of this insulin resistance, sugar accumulates in the blood. While eating sugar by itself does not cause insulin resistance, Grieger says, foods with sugar and fat can contribute to weight gain, thereby reducing insulin sensitivity in the body.
“I don’t think that anybody has put their finger on what the true cause of diabetes is, or that we’re going to find a single cause,” Grieger says. So if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or have other risk factors for the disease, avoiding any one food group entirely — even sugar — won’t completely offset your risk. Rather, it’s important to prioritize proper nutrition, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight — all steps the American Diabetes Association recommends for preventing type 2 diabetes.
It is clearly established that diabetes mellitus is not a single disease but a genetically heterogeneous group of disorders that share glucose intolerance in common (4–7). The concept of genetic heterogeneity (i.e. that different genetic and/or environmental etiologic factors can result in similar phenotypes) has significantly altered the genetic analysis of this common disorder. Diabetes and glucose intolerance are not diagnostic terms, but, like anemia, simply describe symptoms and/or laboratory abnormalities that can have a number of distinct etiologies.
Type 1 diabetes has some connection to your family genes, but that doesn't mean you'll get it if one of your parents had it. "Since not all identical twins get diabetes, we do think that exposure to an additional environmental factor may trigger an immune response that ultimately causes destruction of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas," says Dr. Sarah R. Rettinger, an endocrinologist with Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Is type 2 diabetes serious? Type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence, but it is a very serious disease that demands attention and careful monitoring. There is no such thing as ‘mild’ diabetes. Elevated glucose levels can damage the nervous system, blood vessels, eyes, heart, and kidneys. These complications really impact quality of life (through blindness, amputations, dialysis etc). They also significantly increase the chance of a stroke or heart attack. Managing blood glucose levels immediately, along with other health risk factors (e.g., cholesterol, blood pressure, weight), is necessary for preventing these complications. Losing even a small amount of weight and keeping it off can also improve glucose control as well as have other clinical benefits (read more tips on managing diet and exercise below for more on weight loss). Keep in mind that better diabetes management also has benefits in the here and now – mood and energy levels are adversely affected when your glucose levels are high. 
When it comes to diabetes, there's no real answer yet. Yes, science has begun to uncover the roots of this disease, unearthing a complex interplay of genes and environment—and a lot more unanswered questions. Meanwhile, there's plenty of misinformation to go around. (How often have you had to explain that diabetes doesn't happen because someone "ate too much"?)
It is clearly established that diabetes mellitus is not a single disease but a genetically heterogeneous group of disorders that share glucose intolerance in common (4–7). The concept of genetic heterogeneity (i.e. that different genetic and/or environmental etiologic factors can result in similar phenotypes) has significantly altered the genetic analysis of this common disorder. Diabetes and glucose intolerance are not diagnostic terms, but, like anemia, simply describe symptoms and/or laboratory abnormalities that can have a number of distinct etiologies.
In this health topic, we discuss hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS), an extremely serious complication that can lead to diabetic coma and even death in type 2 diabetes. This serious condition occurs when the blood sugar gets too high and the body becomes severely dehydrated. To prevent HHNS and diabetic coma in type 2 diabetes, check your blood sugar regularly as recommended by your health care provider; check your blood sugar more frequently when you are sick, drink plenty of fluids, and watch for signs of dehydration.
×