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.
Complications of diabetes are responsible for considerable morbidity and mortality. The acute complications of diabetes are hypo- and hyperglycemic coma and infections. The chronic complications include microvascular complications such as retinopathy and nephropathy, and the macrovascular complications of heart disease and stroke. Diabetes mellitus is the commonest cause of blindness and renal failure in the UK and the USA. Other common complications include autonomic and peripheral neuropathy. A combination of vascular and neuropathic disturbances results in a high prevalence of impotence in men with diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy causes lack of sensation in the feet which can cause minor injuries to go unnoticed, become infected and, with circulatory problems obstructing healing, ulceration and gangrene are serious risks and amputation is not uncommon. Evidence from meta-analysis of studies of the relationship between glycemic control and microvascular complications (Wang, Lau, & Chalmers, 1993), and from the longitudinal multicenter Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) in the USA (DCCT Research Group, 1993), have established a clear relationship between improved blood glucose control and reduction of risk of retinopathy and other microvascular complications in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). It is likely that there would be similar findings for noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) though the studies did not include NIDDM patients. However, the DCCT included highly selected, well-motivated, well-educated and well-supported patients, cared for by well-staffed diabetes care teams involving educators and psychologists as well as diabetologists and diabetes specialist nurses.
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.
If you’re getting a good night’s rest but still find yourself so tired you can barely function, it’s definitely worth mentioning to your doctor. Diabetes often wreaks havoc on a person’s normal blood sugar levels, causing fatigue in the process. In later stages, the tissue death associated with untreated diabetes can also limit circulation, meaning oxygenated blood isn’t being effectively transported to your vital organs, making your body work harder and tiring you out along the way.
Diagnosis. The most common diagnostic tests for diabetes are chemical analyses of the blood such as the fasting plasma glucose. Capillary blood glucose monitoring can be used for screening large segments of the population. Portable equipment is available and only one drop of blood from the fingertip or earlobe is necessary. Capillary blood glucose levels have largely replaced analysis of the urine for glucose. Testing for urinary glucose can be problematic as the patient may have a high renal threshold, which would lead to a negative reading for urinary glucose when in fact the blood glucose level was high.
There are other factors that also fall into the category of environmental (as opposed to genetic) causes of diabetes. Certain injuries to the pancreas, from physical trauma or from drugs, can harm beta cells, leading to diabetes. Studies have also found that people who live in polluted areas are prone to type 2, perhaps because of inflammation. And an alternate theory of insulin resistance places the blame on damage caused by inflammation. Age also factors into type 2; beta cells can wear out over time and become less capable of producing enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance, which is why older people are at greater risk of type 2.
The term brittle diabetes has been used to refer to people who have dramatic recurrent swings in blood glucose levels, often for no apparent reason. However, this term is no longer used. People with type 1 diabetes may have more frequent swings in blood glucose levels because insulin production is completely absent. Infection, delayed movement of food through the stomach, and other hormonal disorders may also contribute to blood glucose swings. In all people who have difficulty controlling blood glucose, doctors look for other disorders that might be causing the problem and also give people additional education on how to monitor diabetes and take their drugs.
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.
Hypoglycemia means abnormally low blood sugar (glucose). In patients with diabetes, the most common cause of low blood sugar is excessive use of insulin or other glucose-lowering medications, to lower the blood sugar level in diabetic patients in the presence of a delayed or absent meal. When low blood sugar levels occur because of too much insulin, it is called an insulin reaction. Sometimes, low blood sugar can be the result of an insufficient caloric intake or sudden excessive physical exertion.
There are two main kinds of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. More than 90% of all people with diabetes have type 2. Overall, more than 3 million Canadians have diabetes, and the number is rapidly rising. Over a third of people with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have the disease and are not receiving the required treatment because, for many people, early symptoms are not noticeable without testing.
Intensive blood sugar lowering (HbA1c<6%) as opposed to standard blood sugar lowering (HbA1c of 7–7.9%) does not appear to change mortality.[74][75] The goal of treatment is typically an HbA1c of 7 to 8% or a fasting glucose of less than 7.2 mmol/L (130 mg/dl); however these goals may be changed after professional clinical consultation, taking into account particular risks of hypoglycemia and life expectancy.[59][76][77] Despite guidelines recommending that intensive blood sugar control be based on balancing immediate harms with long-term benefits, many people – for example people with a life expectancy of less than nine years who will not benefit, are over-treated.[78]
10. Importance of keeping appointments and staying in touch with a health care provider for consultation and assessment. Periodic evaluation of the binding of glucose to hemoglobin (glycosylated hemoglobin or hemoglobin A1C testing) can give information about the effectiveness of the prescribed regimen and whether any changes need to be made. The ADA position statement on tests of glycemia in diabetes recommends routine testing for all patients with diabetes. It should be a part of the initial assessment of the patient, with subsequent measurements every three months to determine if the patient's metabolic control has been reached and maintained.

Viral infections may be the most important environmental factor in the development of type 1 diabetes mellitus, [26] probably by initiating or modifying an autoimmune process. Instances have been reported of a direct toxic effect of infection in congenital rubella. One survey suggests enteroviral infection during pregnancy carries an increased risk of type 1 diabetes mellitus in the offspring. Paradoxically, type 1 diabetes mellitus incidence is higher in areas where the overall burden of infectious disease is lower.
Your doctor will carefully examine you at each visit for diabetes. In particular they will examine your cardiovascular system, eyes and neurological systems to detect any complications present. In the acute phase you may appear wasted and dehydrated. You may have difficulty breathing and have a sweet smell to your breath. In the later stages, your doctor will check your pulse, listen to your heart, measure your blood pressure (often lying and standing) and examine your limbs to detect any loss of sensation or ulcers.
What does the research say about proactive type 2 diabetes management? Research shows that proactive management can pay off in fewer complications down the road. In the landmark UKPDS study, 5,102 patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were followed for an average of 10 years to determine whether intensive use of blood glucose-lowering drugs would result in health benefits. Tighter average glucose control (an A1c of 7.0% vs. an A1c of 7.9%) reduced the rate of complications in the eyes, kidneys, and nervous system, by 25%. For every percentage point decrease in A1c (e.g., from 9% to 8%), there was a 25% reduction in diabetes-related deaths, and an 18% reduction in combined fatal and nonfatal heart attacks.

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.
When you have diabetes, your body becomes less efficient at breaking food down into sugar, so you have more sugar sitting in your bloodstream, says Dobbins. “Your body gets rid of it by flushing it out in the urine.” So going to the bathroom a lot could be one of the diabetes symptoms you’re missing. Most patients aren’t necessarily aware of how often they use the bathroom, says Dr. Cypess. “When we ask about it, we often hear, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I’m going more often than I used to,’” he says. But one red flag is whether the need to urinate keeps you up at night. Once or twice might be normal, but if it’s affecting your ability to sleep, that could be a diabetes symptom to pay attention to. Make sure you know these diabetes myths that could sabotage your health.
And remember not to let others scare you into thinking the worst. Getting educated will help you to understand that a diabetes diagnosis, while serious, is not the end of the world. For some people, lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise can actually get blood sugars below the diabetes threshold. You can control your diabetes and not let it control you.

Studies in type 1 patients have shown that in intensively treated patients, diabetic eye disease decreased by 76%, kidney disease decreased by 54%, and nerve disease decreased by 60%. More recently the EDIC trial has shown that type 1 diabetes is also associated with increased heart disease, similar to type 2 diabetes. However, the price for aggressive blood sugar control is a two to three fold increase in the incidence of abnormally low blood sugar levels (caused by the diabetes medications). For this reason, tight control of diabetes to achieve glucose levels between 70 to120 mg/dl is not recommended for children under 13 years of age, patients with severe recurrent hypoglycemia, patients unaware of their hypoglycemia, and patients with far advanced diabetes complications. To achieve optimal glucose control without an undue risk of abnormally lowering blood sugar levels, patients with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood glucose at least four times a day and administer insulin at least three times per day. In patients with type 2 diabetes, aggressive blood sugar control has similar beneficial effects on the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus has wide geographic variation in incidence and prevalence. [30] Annual incidence varies from 0.61 cases per 100,000 population in China to 41.4 cases per 100,000 population in Finland. Substantial variations are observed between nearby countries with differing lifestyles, such as Estonia and Finland, and between genetically similar populations, such as those in Iceland and Norway.

[1] Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Long-term effects of lifestyle intervention or metformin on diabetes development and microvascular complications over 15-year follow-up: the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2015;3(11):866‒875. You can find more information about this study on the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study website.
The levels of glucose in the blood vary normally throughout the day. They rise after a meal and return to pre-meal levels within about 2 hours after eating. Once the levels of glucose in the blood return to premeal levels, insulin production decreases. The variation in blood glucose levels is usually within a narrow range, about 70 to 110 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood in healthy people. If people eat a large amount of carbohydrates, the levels may increase more. People older than 65 years tend to have slightly higher levels, especially after eating.

Diabetes mellitus type 2 is characterized by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency.[51] This is in contrast to diabetes mellitus type 1 in which there is an absolute insulin deficiency due to destruction of islet cells in the pancreas and gestational diabetes mellitus that is a new onset of high blood sugars associated with pregnancy.[13] Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can typically be distinguished based on the presenting circumstances.[48] If the diagnosis is in doubt antibody testing may be useful to confirm type 1 diabetes and C-peptide levels may be useful to confirm type 2 diabetes,[52] with C-peptide levels normal or high in type 2 diabetes, but low in type 1 diabetes.[53]


Your doctor will check your blood glucose levels, and if you are diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor will guide you on a plan to keep your blood sugar levels normal. If your diabetes is mild, your doctor will likely recommend a diet plan, exercise, and weight loss. Your doctor may prescribe medications that help reduce blood sugar levels. In some women, insulin may be necessary.
Diabetes may have symptoms in some people, and no symptoms in others. Generally, people with Type 1 diabetes have increased thirst (polydipsia), frequent urination (polyuria), and increased hunger (polyphagia). Symptoms may develop over weeks to months.  Untreated, this condition may cause a person to lose consciousness and become very ill (diabetic ketoacidosis).
Being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, but other risk factors such as how much physical activity you get, family history, ethnicity, and age also play a role. Unfortunately, many people think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.
For example, the environmental trigger may be a virus or chemical toxin that upsets the normal function of the immune system. This may lead to the body’s immune system attacking itself. The normal beta cells in the pancreas may be attacked and destroyed. When approximately 90% of the beta cells are destroyed, symptoms of diabetes mellitus begin to appear. The exact cause and sequence is not fully understood but investigation and research into the disease continues.
Incidence and Prevalence. It has been estimated that slightly over 6 per cent of the population is affected by some form of diabetes, or 17 million people in the USA and 1.2 to 1.4 million in Canada; many of these individuals are not diagnosed. Diabetes is ranked third as a cause of death, although the life span of patients with diabetes has increased due to improved methods of detection and better management. There is no cure for diabetes at the present time, but enormous strides have been made in the control of the disease. The patient must understand the importance of compliance with the entire treatment plan, including diet, exercise, and in some cases medication. The patient with diabetes is at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, renal failure, neuropathies, and diabetic retinopathy. Research studies such as the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial have indicated that tight control of blood glucose levels resulted in the delay or prevention of retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy.
The word diabetes (/ˌdaɪ.əˈbiːtiːz/ or /ˌdaɪ.əˈbiːtɪs/) comes from Latin diabētēs, which in turn comes from Ancient Greek διαβήτης (diabētēs), which literally means "a passer through; a siphon".[111] Ancient Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia (fl. 1st century CE) used that word, with the intended meaning "excessive discharge of urine", as the name for the disease.[112][113] Ultimately, the word comes from Greek διαβαίνειν (diabainein), meaning "to pass through,"[111] which is composed of δια- (dia-), meaning "through" and βαίνειν (bainein), meaning "to go".[112] The word "diabetes" is first recorded in English, in the form diabete, in a medical text written around 1425.
The good news is that behavior still seems to help shape whether someone with the genetic disposition actually develops type 2—and that changes in diet and exercise can sometimes be enough to ward off the disease. "People sometimes have the misconception that if we say something is genetic, then they can't do anything about preventing diabetes and its complications," says Hanis. But he notes that in a landmark study, lifestyle interventions prevented or delayed type 2 in nearly 60 percent of people at high risk. "If we focus on changing the environment, we can prevent diabetes," he says. "As we understand the genetics, we can prevent more of it."
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.
What are the symptoms of diabetes in women? Diabetes can have different effects on men and women. Learn all about the symptoms of diabetes experienced by women with this article, including how the disease may affect pregnancy and the menopause. This MNT Knowledge Center article will also look at gestational diabetes and the risk factors involved. Read now
×