Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose), is too high (hyperglycemia). Glucose is what the body uses for energy, and the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin that helps convert the glucose from the food you eat into energy. When the body either does not produce enough insulin, does not produce any at all, or your body becomes resistant to the insulin, the glucose does not reach your cells to be used for energy. This results in the health condition termed diabetes.

By the time a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, up to 50% of the beta cells in the pancreas have usually been damaged. In fact, these cells may have been declining for up to 10 years before the diagnosis. Along with raised blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, this predisposes the person to arterial damage years before diabetes is diagnosed. So, at the time of diagnosis, the person is already at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Diabetes mellitus is not a single disorder but a heterogeneous group of disorders. All forms are characterized by hyperglycemia and disturbances of carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism which are associated with absolute or relative deficiencies of insulin action and/or insulin secretion. The World Health Organization (WHO) developed a now widely accepted classification of the disorder, largely based on clinical characteristics (see Table 1, WHO, 1985).
To measure blood glucose levels, a blood sample is usually taken after people have fasted overnight. However, it is possible to take blood samples after people have eaten. Some elevation of blood glucose levels after eating is normal, but even after a meal the levels should not be very high. Fasting blood glucose levels should never be higher than 125 mg/dL. Even after eating, blood glucose levels should not be higher than 199 mg/dL.
A metabolic disease in which carbohydrate use is reduced and that of lipid and protein enhanced; it is caused by an absolute or relative deficiency of insulin and is characterized, in more severe cases, by chronic hyperglycemia, glycosuria, water and electrolyte loss, ketoacidosis, and coma; long-term complications include neuropathy, retinopathy, nephropathy, generalized degenerative changes in large and small blood vessels, and increased susceptibility to infection. 

Insulin resistance is the most common cause of type 2 diabetes, but it is possible to have type 2 and not be insulin resistant. You can have a form of type 2 where you body simply doesn’t produce enough insulin; that’s not as common. Researchers aren’t sure what exactly keeps some people from producing enough insulin, but that’s another thing they’re working hard to figure out.

Despite our efforts, patients are still likely to suffer myocardial infarction. The Diabetes mellitus, Insulin Glucose infusion in Acute Myocardial Infarction (DIGAMI) study236,237 reported on treating subjects with acute myocardial infarction and either diabetes or raised random plasma glucose (i.e., not necessarily diabetic) with either an intensive insulin infusion and then a four-times daily insulin regimen or conventional treatment. Over a mean follow-up of 3.4 years, there was a 33% death rate in the treatment group compared with a 44% death rate in the control group, an absolute reduction in mortality of 11%. The effect was greatest among the subgroup without previous insulin treatment and at a low cardiovascular risk. Evidence is continuing to accumulate that the diabetic person should have a glucose/insulin infusion after a myocardial infarction.
Examples of simple or refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, exist in various forms — from the sucrose in the table sugar you use to bake cookies, to the various kinds of added sugar in packaged snacks, fruit drinks, soda, and cereal. Simple carbohydrates are natural components of many fresh foods, too, such as the lactose in milk and the fructose in fruits, and therefore, a healthy, well-balanced diet will always contain these types of sugars.
Progression toward type 2 diabetes may even be self-perpetuating. Once a person begins to become insulin resistant, for whatever reason, things may snowball from there. The increased levels of circulating insulin required to compensate for resistance encourage the body to pack on pounds. That extra weight will in turn make the body more insulin resistant. Furthermore, the heavier a person is, the more difficult it can be to exercise, continuing the slide toward diabetes.
Keeping track of the number of calories provided by different foods can become complicated, so patients usually are advised to consult a nutritionist or dietitian. An individualized, easy to manage diet plan can be set up for each patient. Both the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association recommend diets based on the use of food exchange lists. Each food exchange contains a known amount of calories in the form of protein, fat, or carbohydrate. A patient's diet plan will consist of a certain number of exchanges from each food category (meat or protein, fruits, breads and starches, vegetables, and fats) to be eaten at meal times and as snacks. Patients have flexibility in choosing which foods they eat as long as they stick with the number of exchanges prescribed.
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.
If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. They are no more "off limits" to people with diabetes than they are to people without diabetes. The key to sweets is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions so you focus your meal on more healthful foods.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system, the body’s system for fighting infection, attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Scientists think type 1 diabetes is caused by genes and environmental factors, such as viruses, that might trigger the disease. Studies such as TrialNet are working to pinpoint causes of type 1 diabetes and possible ways to prevent or slow the disease.
Persons with diabetes are prone to infection, delayed healing, and vascular disease. The ease with which poorly controlled diabetic persons develop an infection is thought to be due in part to decreased chemotaxis of leukocytes, abnormal phagocyte function, and diminished blood supply because of atherosclerotic changes in the blood vessels. An impaired blood supply means a deficit in the protective defensive cells transported in the blood. Excessive glucose allows organisms to grow out of control.
There is an overall lack of public awareness of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Making yourself aware of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes is a great way to be proactive about your health and the health of your family members. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, it’s possible that you have (or your child has) type 1 diabetes. A doctor can make that diagnosis by checking blood glucose levels.
Most cases of diabetes involve many genes, with each being a small contributor to an increased probability of becoming a type 2 diabetic.[10] If one identical twin has diabetes, the chance of the other developing diabetes within his lifetime is greater than 90%, while the rate for nonidentical siblings is 25–50%.[13] As of 2011, more than 36 genes had been found that contribute to the risk of type 2 diabetes.[37] All of these genes together still only account for 10% of the total heritable component of the disease.[37] The TCF7L2 allele, for example, increases the risk of developing diabetes by 1.5 times and is the greatest risk of the common genetic variants.[13] Most of the genes linked to diabetes are involved in beta cell functions.[13]
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) resembles type 2 DM in several respects, involving a combination of relatively inadequate insulin secretion and responsiveness. It occurs in about 2–10% of all pregnancies and may improve or disappear after delivery.[50] However, after pregnancy approximately 5–10% of women with GDM are found to have DM, most commonly type 2.[50] GDM is fully treatable, but requires careful medical supervision throughout the pregnancy. Management may include dietary changes, blood glucose monitoring, and in some cases, insulin may be required.
The treatment of low blood sugar consists of administering a quickly absorbed glucose source. These include glucose containing drinks, such as orange juice, soft drinks (not sugar-free), or glucose tablets in doses of 15-20 grams at a time (for example, the equivalent of half a glass of juice). Even cake frosting applied inside the cheeks can work in a pinch if patient cooperation is difficult. If the individual becomes unconscious, glucagon can be given by intramuscular injection.
The patient, physician, nurse, and dietician must carefully evaluate the patient's life style, nutritional needs, and ability to comply with the proposed dietary prescription. There are a variety of meal planning systems that can be used by the patient with diabetes; each has benefits and drawbacks that need to be evaluated in order to maximize compliance. Two of the most frequently used ones are the exchange system (see accompanying table) and the carbohydrate counting system.
Doctors can also measure the level of a protein, hemoglobin A1C (also called glycosylated or glycolated hemoglobin), in the blood. Hemoglobin is the red, oxygen-carrying substance in red blood cells. When blood is exposed to high blood glucose levels over a period of time, glucose attaches to the hemoglobin and forms glycosylated hemoglobin. The hemoglobin A1C level (reported as the percentage of hemoglobin that is A1C) reflects long-term trends in blood glucose levels rather than rapid changes.
The notion is understandable. Blood sugar levels are high in diabetes, so a common idea has held that eating sugar somehow triggers the disease process. However, the major diabetes organizations take a different view. The American Diabetes Association1 and Diabetes UK2 have labelled this notion a “myth,” as has the Joslin Diabetes Center,3 which wrote, “Diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar.” These and other organizations have worked to educate people about the causes of diabetes and the role that foods play in the disease process.
Hyperglycemia (ie, random blood glucose concentration of more than 200 mg/dL or 11 mmol/L) results when insulin deficiency leads to uninhibited gluconeogenesis and prevents the use and storage of circulating glucose. The kidneys cannot reabsorb the excess glucose load, causing glycosuria, osmotic diuresis, thirst, and dehydration. Increased fat and protein breakdown leads to ketone production and weight loss. Without insulin, a child with type 1 diabetes mellitus wastes away and eventually dies due to DKA. The effects of insulin deficiency are shown in the image below.
If you have type 2 diabetes and your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 35, you may be a candidate for weight-loss surgery (bariatric surgery). Blood sugar levels return to normal in 55 to 95 percent of people with diabetes, depending on the procedure performed. Surgeries that bypass a portion of the small intestine have more of an effect on blood sugar levels than do other weight-loss surgeries.
The patient, physician, nurse, and dietician must carefully evaluate the patient's life style, nutritional needs, and ability to comply with the proposed dietary prescription. There are a variety of meal planning systems that can be used by the patient with diabetes; each has benefits and drawbacks that need to be evaluated in order to maximize compliance. Two of the most frequently used ones are the exchange system (see accompanying table) and the carbohydrate counting system.
Unexplained weight loss can happen for lots of reasons, and diabetes is one of them. Goundan explains that insulin helps your body move sugar from your blood to your cells, so when you have an insulin resistance, you don’t get enough energy into your cells despite all that sugar flowing through your body. “Because you’re unable to get enough energy from sugar, your body burns your own fat and muscle for energy," Kellis says. "Weight loss can be pretty significant, sometimes 10 to 20 pounds."