On behalf of the millions of Americans who live with or are at risk for diabetes, we are committed to helping you understand this chronic disease. Help us set the record straight and educate the world about diabetes and its risk factors by sharing the common questions and answers below. If you're new to type 2 diabetes, join our Living With Type 2 Diabetes program to get more facts.
Janis McWilliams, RN, MSN, CDE, BC-ADM, responds: Yes, in type 1 diabetes in particular, the onset of symptoms like frequent urination and extreme thirst can be very sudden. In type 2 diabetes, the symptoms tend to come about more gradually, and sometimes there are no signs at all. People who have symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately for an accurate diagnosis. Keep in mind that these symptoms could signal other problems, too.
How to use basal insulin: Benefits, types, and dosage Basal, or background, insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels in people diagnosed with diabetes. It keeps glucose levels steady throughout the day and night. It is taken as injections, once a day or more often. The type of insulin and number of daily injections varies. Find out more about the options available. Read now
[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.
With type 1, a disease that often seems to strike suddenly and unexpectedly, the effects of environment and lifestyle are far less clear. But several theories attempt to explain why cases of type 1 have increased so dramatically in recent decades, by around 5 percent per year since 1980. The three main suspects now are too little sun, too good hygiene, and too much cow's milk.
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.

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).
Metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Fortamet, Riomet) belongs to a class of drugs called biguanides. Metformin is first-line therapy for most type 2 diabetics. It works to stop the liver from making excess glucose, and has a low risk of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, or very low blood sugar can cause symptoms such as sweating, nervousness, heart palpitations, weakness, intense hunger, trembling, and problems speaking. Many patients lose some weight taking metformin, which is also helpful for blood sugar control.
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Jump up ^ Kyu HH, Bachman VF, Alexander LT, Mumford JE, Afshin A, Estep K, Veerman JL, Delwiche K, Iannarone ML, Moyer ML, Cercy K, Vos T, Murray CJ, Forouzanfar MH (August 2016). "Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013". BMJ. 354: i3857. doi:10.1136/bmj.i3857. PMC 4979358. PMID 27510511.


The development of type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors.[24][26] While some of these factors are under personal control, such as diet and obesity, other factors are not, such as increasing age, female gender, and genetics.[10] A lack of sleep has been linked to type 2 diabetes.[27] This is believed to act through its effect on metabolism.[27] The nutritional status of a mother during fetal development may also play a role, with one proposed mechanism being that of DNA methylation.[28] The intestinal bacteria Prevotella copri and Bacteroides vulgatus have been connected with type 2 diabetes.[29]

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is predominantly a disease of the young, usually developing before 20 years of age. Overall, type I DM makes up approximately 15% of all cases of diabetes. It develops in approximately 1 in 600 children and is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. The incidence is relatively low for children under the age of 5, increases between 5 and 15, and then tapers off.


One of the most common ways people with type 2 diabetes attempt to lower their blood sugar is by drastically reducing their intake of carbs. The ADA agrees that carbohydrate counting is essential if you have diabetes, but extreme diets like the ketogenic diet, which reduces carb intake to as little as 5 percent of your daily calories, can be risky for some people with diabetes. (36)
In type 1 diabetes, other symptoms to watch for include unexplained weight loss, lethargy, drowsiness, and hunger. Symptoms sometimes occur after a viral illness. In some cases, a person may reach the point of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) before a type 1 diagnosis is made. DKA occurs when blood glucose is dangerously high and the body can't get nutrients into the cells because of the absence of insulin. The body then breaks down muscle and fat for energy, causing an accumulation of ketones in the blood and urine. Symptoms of DKA include a fruity odor on the breath; heavy, taxed breathing; and vomiting. If left untreated, DKA can result in stupor, unconsciousness, and even death.
Glucagon is a hormone that causes the release of glucose from the liver (for example, it promotes gluconeogenesis). Glucagon can be lifesaving and every patient with diabetes who has a history of hypoglycemia (particularly those on insulin) should have a glucagon kit. Families and friends of those with diabetes need to be taught how to administer glucagon, since obviously the patients will not be able to do it themselves in an emergency situation. Another lifesaving device that should be mentioned is very simple; a medic-alert bracelet should be worn by all patients with diabetes.
In animals, diabetes is most commonly encountered in dogs and cats. Middle-aged animals are most commonly affected. Female dogs are twice as likely to be affected as males, while according to some sources, male cats are also more prone than females. In both species, all breeds may be affected, but some small dog breeds are particularly likely to develop diabetes, such as Miniature Poodles.[123]

It isn't always easy to start an exercise regimen, but once you get into a groove, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy it. Find a way to fit activity into your daily routine. Even a few minutes a day goes a long way. The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults with diabetes should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week (spread over at least three days with no more than two consecutive days without exercise). You don't have to start with this right away, though. Start with five to 10 minutes per day and go from there. To stay motivated, find a buddy, get a fitness tracker, or use another measurement tool that can help you see your progress.


There are many complications of diabetes. Knowing and understanding the signs of these complications is important. If caught early, some of these complications can be treated and prevented from getting worse. The best way to prevent complications of diabetes is to keep your blood sugars in good control. High glucose levels produce changes in the blood vessels themselves, as well as in blood cells (primarily erythrocytes) that impair blood flow to various organs.
Although age of onset and length of the disease process are related to the frequency with which vascular, renal, and neurologic complications develop, there are some patients who remain relatively free of sequelae even into the later years of their lives. Because diabetes mellitus is not a single disease but rather a complex constellation of syndromes, each patient has a unique response to the disease process.
Retinopathy: If blood sugar levels are too high, they can damage the eyes and cause vision loss and blindness. Retinopathy causes the development and leaking of new blood vessels behind the eye. Other effects of diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can make this worse. According to the CDC, early treatment can prevent or reduce the risk of blindness in an estimated 90 percent of people with diabetes.
2. Home glucose monitoring using either a visually read test or a digital readout of the glucose concentration in a drop of blood. Patients can usually learn to use the necessary equipment and perform finger sticks. They keep a daily record of findings and are taught to adjust insulin dosage accordingly. More recent glucose monitoring devices can draw blood from other locations on the body, such as the forearm.
 Type 1 diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic syndrome defined by an inability to produce insulin, a hormone which lowers blood sugar. This leads to inappropriate hyperglycaemia (increased blood sugar levels) and deranged metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Insulin is normally produced in the pancreas, a glandular organ involved in the production of digestive enzymes and hormones such as insulin and glucagon. These functions are carried out in the exocrine and endocrine (Islets of Langerhans) pancreas respectively.

Don’t be alarmed: This is not diabetic retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the back of the eye are getting destroyed, says Dr. Cypess. In the early stages of diabetes, the eye lens is not focusing well because glucose builds up in the eye, which temporarily changes its shape. “You’re not going blind from diabetes,” Dr. Cypess says he assures patients. “In about six to eight weeks after your blood sugars are stabilized, you’re not going to feel it anymore; the eye will adjust.” Here are more surprising facts you never knew about diabetes.


For Candace Clark, bariatric surgery meant the difference between struggling with weight issues, including medical problems triggered by obesity, and enjoying renewed health and energy. "I felt like I was slowly dying," says Candace Clark, a 54-year-old Barron, Wisconsin, resident who had dealt with weight issues for years. "I was tired of feeling the way [...]
A random blood sugar of greater than 11.1 mmol/l (200 mg/dl) in association with typical symptoms[23] or a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) of ≥ 48 mmol/mol (≥ 6.5 DCCT %) is another method of diagnosing diabetes.[10] In 2009 an International Expert Committee that included representatives of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) recommended that a threshold of ≥ 48 mmol/mol (≥ 6.5 DCCT %) should be used to diagnose diabetes.[48] This recommendation was adopted by the American Diabetes Association in 2010.[49] Positive tests should be repeated unless the person presents with typical symptoms and blood sugars >11.1 mmol/l (>200 mg/dl).[48]

Poor vision, limited manual dexterity due to arthritis, tremor, or stroke, or other physical limitations may make monitoring blood glucose levels more difficult for older people. However, special monitors are available. Some have large numerical displays that are easier to read. Some provide audible instructions and results. Some monitors read blood glucose levels through the skin and do not require a blood sample. People can consult a diabetes educator to determine which meter is most appropriate.
You can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. However, type 2 diabetes occurs most often in middle-aged and older people. You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are age 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes, or are overweight or obese. Diabetes is more common in people who are African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
The causes of diabetes mellitus are unclear, however, there seem to be both hereditary (genetic factors passed on in families) and environmental factors involved. Research has shown that some people who develop diabetes have common genetic markers. In Type I diabetes, the immune system, the body's defense system against infection, is believed to be triggered by a virus or another microorganism that destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. In Type II diabetes, age, obesity, and family history of diabetes play a role.
People with diabetes can benefit from education about the disease and treatment, good nutrition to achieve a normal body weight, and exercise, with the goal of keeping both short-term and long-term blood glucose levels within acceptable bounds. In addition, given the associated higher risks of cardiovascular disease, lifestyle modifications are recommended to control blood pressure.[80][81]
When you have diabetes, excess sugar (glucose) builds up in your blood. Your kidneys are forced to work overtime to filter and absorb the excess sugar. If your kidneys can't keep up, the excess sugar is excreted into your urine, dragging along fluids from your tissues. This triggers more frequent urination, which may leave you dehydrated. As you drink more fluids to quench your thirst, you'll urinate even more.

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.


The earliest surviving work with a detailed reference to diabetes is that of Aretaeus of Cappadocia (2nd or early 3rd century CE). He described the symptoms and the course of the disease, which he attributed to the moisture and coldness, reflecting the beliefs of the "Pneumatic School". He hypothesized a correlation of diabetes with other diseases, and he discussed differential diagnosis from the snakebite which also provokes excessive thirst. His work remained unknown in the West until 1552, when the first Latin edition was published in Venice.[110]
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
When you have Type 2 diabetes, you may start out with something called insulin resistance. This means your cells do not respond well to the insulin you are making. "Insulin levels may be quite high, especially in the early stages of the disease. Eventually, your pancreas may not be able to keep up, and insulin secretion goes down," Rettinger explains. Insulin resistance becomes more common as you put on more weight, especially weight around your belly.
Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.
There is evidence that certain emotions can promote type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that depression seems to predispose people to diabetes. Other research has tied emotional stress to diabetes, though the link hasn't been proved. Researchers speculate that the emotional connection may have to do with the hormone cortisol, which floods the body during periods of stress. Cortisol sends glucose to the blood, where it can fuel a fight-or-flight response, but overuse of this system may lead to dysfunction.
Sources of processed or added sugar, including condiments, honey, and especially sugary drinks, are just a few of the potential culprits for weight gain, Grieger says, and it’s when they’re consumed in excess that they can contribute to diabetes risk. “The largest source of added sugar comes from sweetened beverages. They run the gamut of soda, sweetened tea, juices with added sugar, sports drinks — it’s a plethora. Just about everything we drink has added sugar in it, except for water,” she explains.
Occasionally, a child with hypoglycemic coma may not recover within 10 minutes, despite appropriate therapy. Under no circumstances should further treatment be given, especially intravenous glucose, until the blood glucose level is checked and still found to be subnormal. Overtreatment of hypoglycemia can lead to cerebral edema and death. If coma persists, seek other causes.
FIGURE 19-1 ■. This figure shows the hyperbolic relationship of insulin resistance and beta cell function. On the y-axis is beta cell function as reflected in the first-phase insulin response during intravenous (IV) glucose infusion; on the x-axis is insulin sensitivity and its mirror image resistance. In a subject with normal glucose tolerance (NGT) and beta-cell reserve, an increase in insulin resistance results in increased insulin release and normal glucose tolerance. In an individual for whom the capacity to increase insulin release is compromised, increasing insulin resistance with partial or no beta-cell compensation results in progression from normal glucose tolerance, to impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), and finally to diabetes (T2D). Differences between these categories are small at high insulin sensitivity, which may be maintained by weight reduction, exercise, and certain drugs. At a critical degree of insulin resistance, due to obesity or other listed factors, only a further small increment in resistance requires a large increase in insulin output. Those that can increase insulin secretion to this extent retain normal glucose tolerance; those who cannot achieve this degree of insulin secretion (e.g., due to a mild defect in genes regulating insulin synthesis, insulin secretion, insulin action, or an ongoing immune destruction of beta cells) now unmask varying degrees of carbohydrate intolerance. The product of insulin sensitivity (the reciprocal of insulin resistance) and acute insulin response (a measurement beta-cell function) has been called the “disposition index.” This index remains constant in an individual with normal beta cell compensation in response to changes in insulin resistance. IGT, impaired glucose tolerance; NGT, normal glucose tolerance; T2D, type 2 diabetes.
Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) refer to levels of blood glucose concentration above the normal range, but below those which are diagnostic for diabetes. Subjects with IGT and/or IFG are at substantially higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those with normal glucose tolerance. The benefits of clinical intervention in subjects with moderate glucose intolerance is a topic of much current interest.

Insulin is only recommended for individuals for type 2 diabetics when they have not been able to get blood sugars low enough to prevent complications through other means. To avoid insulin, those with this health condition should work very hard to follow a healthy eating plan that includes a lot of vegetables and lean proteins, exercise every day, and keep stress in perspective. They also should take their oral drugs regularly. It can be difficult to follow these recommendations and the help of your doctor, nutritionist, diabetes educator, health coach, or integrative medicine practitioner may be helpful. If you who want to avoid taking medicine, work with health professionals who are knowledgeable about lifestyle medicine, and can help you understand how to fit the changes into your life.
Constant advances are being made in development of new oral medications for persons with diabetes. In 2003, a drug called Metaglip combining glipizide and metformin was approved in a dingle tablet. Along with diet and exercise, the drug was used as initial therapy for Type 2 diabetes. Another drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) combines metformin and rosiglitazone (Avandia), a medication that increases muscle cells' sensitivity to insulin. It is marketed under the name Avandamet. So many new drugs are under development that it is best to stay in touch with a physician for the latest information; physicians can find the best drug, diet and exercise program to fit an individual patient's need.

Can you “exercise your way” out of this problem? Sometimes you can; however, the key is exercising properly. For younger patients, it is best to exercise briefly and intensely. Within the first 20 minutes of intense exercise, your body burns its sugar stores, which are hanging out in liver and muscle again. After that, you start burning fat. Although this sounds good; and to some extent it is, if you spend hours running or exercising excessively, you train your body to burn fat efficiently, which subsequently lead to also training your body to store fat efficiently.
Jump up ^ Kyu HH, Bachman VF, Alexander LT, Mumford JE, Afshin A, Estep K, Veerman JL, Delwiche K, Iannarone ML, Moyer ML, Cercy K, Vos T, Murray CJ, Forouzanfar MH (August 2016). "Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013". BMJ. 354: i3857. doi:10.1136/bmj.i3857. PMC 4979358. PMID 27510511.

Whether you’re dealing with frequent UTIs or skin infections, undiagnosed diabetes may be to blame. The high blood sugar associated with diabetes can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infection. In more advanced cases of the disease, nerve damage and tissue death can open people up to further infections, often in the skin, and could be a precursor to amputation.


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.

Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c is a protein on the surface of red blood cells. The HbA1c test is used to monitor blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes over time. Normal HbA1c levels are 6% or less. HbA1c levels can be affected by insulin use, fasting, glucose intake (oral or IV), or a combination of these and other factors. High hemoglobin A1c levels in the blood increases the risk of microvascular complications, for example, diabetic neuropathy, eye, and kidney disease.
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