The body’s immune system is responsible for fighting off foreign invaders, like harmful viruses and bacteria. In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakes the body’s own healthy cells for foreign invaders. The immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. After these beta cells are destroyed, the body is unable to produce insulin.

The information contained in this monograph is for educational purposes only. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have or suspect you may have a health concern, consult your professional health care provider. Reliance on any information provided in this monograph is solely at your own risk.


People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce any insulin at all. People with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, however, the cells in the muscles, liver and fat tissue are inefficient at absorbing the insulin and cannot regulate glucose well. As a result, the body tries to compensate by having the pancreas pump out more insulin. But the pancreas slowly loses the ability to produce enough insulin, and as a result, the cells don’t get the energy they need to function properly.
Patients need to ensure that their blood glucose levels are kept as normal as possible so that delicate tissues in the body (especially blood vessels in the eyes, kidneys and peripheral nerves) are not damaged by high glucose levels over a long period of time. To achieve this, patients need to measure their glucose regularly and learn how to adjust their insulin doses in order to optimise their glucose levels (diabetes control). Good diabetes control helps to minimise the risk of long-term diabetes complications, as well as short-term symptoms (such as thirst).
Knowledge is power. A certified diabetes educator can provide you with diabetes self-management education. They specialize in diabetes and can help you learn about complicated or easier things. For example, they can help you set up your glucose meter, teach you about how your medicines work, or help you put together a meal plan. You can meet with them one on one or in group setting.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Type 1 diabetes is partly inherited, with multiple genes, including certain HLA genotypes, known to influence the risk of diabetes. In genetically susceptible people, the onset of diabetes can be triggered by one or more environmental factors,[41] such as a viral infection or diet. Several viruses have been implicated, but to date there is no stringent evidence to support this hypothesis in humans.[41][42] Among dietary factors, data suggest that gliadin (a protein present in gluten) may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes, but the mechanism is not fully understood.[43][44]
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). If your blood sugar level drops below your target range, it's known as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Your blood sugar level can drop for many reasons, including skipping a meal, inadvertently taking more medication than usual or getting more physical activity than normal. Low blood sugar is most likely if you take glucose-lowering medications that promote the secretion of insulin or if you're taking insulin.
Hypoglycemic reactions are promptly treated by giving carbohydrates (orange juice, hard candy, honey, or any sugary food); if necessary, subcutaneous or intramuscular glucagon or intravenous dextrose (if the patient is not conscious) is administered. Hyperglycemic crises are treated initially with prescribed intravenous fluids and insulin and later with potassium replacement based on laboratory values.
Jump up ^ Cheng J, Zhang W, Zhang X, Han F, Li X, He X, Li Q, Chen J (May 2014). "Effect of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular deaths, and cardiovascular events in patients with diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis". JAMA Internal Medicine. 174 (5): 773–85. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.348. PMID 24687000.
Random blood sugar test. A blood sample will be taken at a random time. Blood sugar values are expressed in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Regardless of when you last ate, a random blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or higher suggests diabetes, especially when coupled with any of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent urination and extreme thirst.
Arlan L Rosenbloom, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Epidemiology, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Florida Chapter of The American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida Pediatric Society, International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes
It’s not uncommon for patients to suddenly feel unsteady and immediately need to reach for carbs, says Marjorie Cypress, a nurse practitioner at an endocrinology clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and 2014 president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. “When you have high blood sugar, your body has a problem regulating its glucose,” she explains. “If you’ve eaten something high in carbohydrates, your body shoots out a little too much insulin, and your glucose drops quickly. This makes you feel shaky, and you tend to crave carbs or sugar. This can lead to a vicious cycle.” These are the best foods for someone on a diabetic diet.
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into the cells in your body for use as energy. If you have type 2 diabetes, cells don’t respond normally to insulin; this is called insulin resistance. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar is damaging to the body and can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
Regular ophthalmological examinations are recommended for early detection of diabetic retinopathy. The patient is educated about diabetes, its possible complications and their management, and the importance of adherence to the prescribed therapy. The patient is taught the importance of maintaining normal blood pressure levels (120/80 mm Hg or lower). Control of even mild-to-moderate hypertension results in fewer diabetic complications, esp. nephropathy, cerebrovascular disease, and cardiovascular disease. Limiting alcohol intake to approximately one drink daily and avoiding tobacco are also important for self-management. Emotional support and a realistic assessment of the patient's condition are offered; this assessment should stress that, with proper treatment, the patient can have a near-normal lifestyle and life expectancy. Long-term goals for a patient with diabetes should include achieving and maintaining optimal metabolic outcomes to prevent complications; modifying diet and lifestyle to prevent and treat obesity, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and nephropathy; improving physical activity; and allowing for the patient’s nutritional and psychosocial needs and preferences. Assistance is offered to help the patient develop positive coping strategies. It is estimated that 23 million Americans will be diabetic by the year 2030. The increasing prevalence of obesity coincides with the increasing incidence of diabetes; approx. 45% of those diagnosed receive optimal care according to established guidelines. According to the CDC, the NIH, and the ADA, about 40% of Americans between ages 40 and 74 have prediabetes, putting them at increased risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes with a focus on decreasing obesity can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes in 58% of this population. The patient and family should be referred to local and national support and information groups and may require psychological counseling.

Does having type 2 diabetes affect life expectancy? While continued improvements in therapies and care for type 2 diabetes may be helping patients live longer, the unfortunate reality is that type 2 diabetes has been shown to decrease life expectancy by up to ten years, according to Diabetes UK. There is still much to be done to ensure that all patients have access to appropriate healthcare and treatments to live a happier and healthier life with type 2 diabetes.
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.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease for which there is treatment but no known cure.  Treatment is aimed at keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible.  This is achieved with a combination of diet, exercise and insulin or oral medication.  People with type 1 diabetes need to be hospitalized right after they are diagnosed to get their glucose levels down to an acceptable level.
Insulin works like a key that opens the doors to cells and lets the glucose in. Without insulin, glucose can't get into the cells (the doors are "locked" and there is no key) and so it stays in the bloodstream. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood remains higher than normal. High blood sugar levels are a problem because they can cause a number of health problems.
In addition to the problems with an increase in insulin resistance, the release of insulin by the pancreas may also be defective and suboptimal. In fact, there is a known steady decline in beta cell production of insulin in type 2 diabetes that contributes to worsening glucose control. (This is a major factor for many patients with type 2 diabetes who ultimately require insulin therapy.) Finally, the liver in these patients continues to produce glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis despite elevated glucose levels. The control of gluconeogenesis becomes compromised.
There is strong evidence that the long-term complications are related to the degree and duration of metabolic disturbances.2 These considerations form the basis of standard and innovative therapeutic approaches to this disease that include newer pharmacologic formulations of insulin, delivery by traditional and more physiologic means, and evolving methods to continuously monitor blood glucose to maintain it within desired limits by linking these features to algorithm-driven insulin delivery pumps for an “artificial pancreas.”

The signs and symptoms of diabetes are disregarded by many because of the chronic progression of the disease. People do not consider this as a serious problem because unlike many other diseases the consequences of hyperglycaemia are not manifested immediately. People are not aware that damage can start several years before symptoms become noticeable. This is unfortunate because recognition of early symptoms can help to get the disease under control immediately and to prevent vascular complications.
The glucose level at which symptoms develop varies greatly from individual to individual (and from time to time in the same individual), depending in part on the duration of diabetes, the frequency of hypoglycemic episodes, the rate of fall of glycemia, and overall control. (Glucose is also the sole energy source for erythrocytes and the kidney medulla.)
To treat diabetic retinopathy, a laser is used to destroy and prevent the recurrence of the development of these small aneurysms and brittle blood vessels. Approximately 50% of patients with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy after 10 years of diabetes, and 80% retinopathy after 15 years of the disease. Poor control of blood sugar and blood pressure further aggravates eye disease in diabetes.
The glucose level at which symptoms develop varies greatly from individual to individual (and from time to time in the same individual), depending in part on the duration of diabetes, the frequency of hypoglycemic episodes, the rate of fall of glycemia, and overall control. (Glucose is also the sole energy source for erythrocytes and the kidney medulla.)
Type 1 diabetes in pediatric patients has been linked to changes in cognition and brain structure, with a study by Siller et al finding lower volume in the left temporal-parietal-occipital cortex in young patients with type 1 diabetes than in controls. The study also indicated that in pediatric patients, higher severity of type 1 diabetes presentation correlates with greater structural differences in the brain at about 3 months following diagnosis. The investigators found that among study patients with type 1 diabetes, an association existed between the presence of diabetic ketoacidosis at presentation and reduced radial, axial, and mean diffusivity in the major white matter tracts on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In those with higher glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, hippocampal, thalamic, and cerebellar white matter volumes were lower, as was right posterior parietal cortical thickness, while right occipital cortical thickness was greater. Patients in the study were aged 7-17 years. [43]

In the exchange system, foods are divided into six food groups (starch, meat, vegetable, fruit, milk, and fat) and the patient is taught to select items from each food group as ordered. Items in each group may be exchanged for each other in specified portions. The patient should avoid concentrated sweets and should increase fiber in the diet. Special dietetic foods are not necessary. Patient teaching should emphasize that a diabetic diet is a healthy diet that all members of the family can follow.
If you are symptomatic (e.g., increased thirst or urination, unexplained weight loss), your doctor may only use a single test to diagnose diabetes/prediabetes. If you don't have any symptoms, one high blood glucose test doesn't necessarily mean you have diabetes/prediabetes. Your doctor will repeat one of the blood tests again on another day (generally 1 week later) to confirm the diagnosis.
Diabetes can also result from other hormonal disturbances, such as excessive growth hormone production (acromegaly) and Cushing's syndrome. In acromegaly, a pituitary gland tumor at the base of the brain causes excessive production of growth hormone, leading to hyperglycemia. In Cushing's syndrome, the adrenal glands produce an excess of cortisol, which promotes blood sugar elevation.
The problem with sweetened drinks is that, due to their liquid form, they’re among the fastest simple carbs to be digested in the body, causing blood sugar levels to spike even more than a simple carb in solid-food form would. Research supports this idea: A review published in November 2010 in the journal Diabetes Care suggested adding only one serving of a sweetened beverage to your diet may increase your risk for type 2 diabetes by 15 percent.
Dietary factors also influence the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in excess is associated with an increased risk.[32][33] The type of fats in the diet are important, with saturated fats and trans fatty acids increasing the risk, and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat decreasing the risk.[26] Eating a lot of white rice appears to play a role in increasing risk.[34] A lack of exercise is believed to cause 7% of cases.[35] Persistent organic pollutants may play a role.[36]
Blood travels throughout your body, and when too much glucose (sugar) is present, it disrupts the normal environment that the organ systems of your body function within. In turn, your body starts to exhibit signs that things are not working properly inside—those are the symptoms of diabetes people sometimes experience. If this problem—caused by a variety of factors—is left untreated, it can lead to a number of damaging complications such as heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and blood vessel disease that may require an amputation, nerve damage, and impotence in men.

A healthy lifestyle can prevent almost all cases of type 2 diabetes. A large research study called the Diabetes Prevention Program, found that patients who made intensive changes including diet and exercise, reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58%. Patients who were over 60 years old seemed to experience extra benefit; they reduced their risk by 71%. In comparison, patients who were given the drug metformin for prevention only reduced their risk by 31%.
Finally, modern society should probably shoulder at least some of the blame for the type 2 diabetes epidemic. Access to cheap, calorie-laden foods may even influence type 2 risk beyond simply their effects on body weight; the stuff that is in processed foods, like high-fructose corn syrup, could alter the body's chemistry or gut microbes in a way that affects health. Add to that the fact that most Americans are sedentary, spending their time sitting in cubicles, driving in cars, playing video games, or watching television. The lack of exercise, plus the abundance of unhealthy foods, cultivates a fertile breeding ground for diabetes.
Home blood glucose self-monitoring is indispensable in helping patients to adjust daily insulin doses according to test results and to achieve optimal long-term control of diabetes. Insulin or other hypoglycemic agents are administered as prescribed, and their action and use explained to the patient. With help from a dietitian, a diet is planned based on the recommended amount of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The amount of carbohydrates consumed is a dietary key to managing glycemic control in diabetes. For most men, 60 to 75 carbohydrate g per meal are a reasonable intake; for most women, 45 to 60 g are appropriate. Saturated fats should be limited to less than 7% of total caloric intake, and trans-fatty acids (unsaturated fats with hydrogen added) minimized. A steady, consistent level of daily exercise is prescribed, and participation in a supervised exercise program is recommended.

Often people don't experience symptoms of diabetes until their blood sugars are very high. Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger, extreme fatigues, numbness and tingling in the extremities (hands and feet), cuts and wounds that are slow to heal, and blurred vision. Some people also experience other less common symptoms including weight loss, dry itchy skin, increased yeast infections, erectile dysfunction, and acanthosis nigricans (thick, "velvety" patches found in the folds or creases of skin, such as the neck, that is indicative of insulin resistance).
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).
Research continues on diabetes prevention and improved detection of those at risk for developing diabetes. While the onset of Type I diabetes is unpredictable, the risk of developing Type II diabetes can be reduced by maintaining ideal weight and exercising regularly. The physical and emotional stress of surgery, illness, pregnancy, and alcoholism can increase the risks of diabetes, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle is critical to preventing the onset of Type II diabetes and preventing further complications of the disease.
Healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent type 2 diabetes. Even if you have diabetes in your family, diet and exercise can help you prevent the disease. If you've already received a diagnosis of diabetes, you can use healthy lifestyle choices to help prevent complications. And if you have prediabetes, lifestyle changes can slow or halt the progression from prediabetes to diabetes.
The more common form of diabetes, Type II, occurs in approximately 3-5% of Americans under 50 years of age, and increases to 10-15% in those over 50. More than 90% of the diabetics in the United States are Type II diabetics. Sometimes called age-onset or adult-onset diabetes, this form of diabetes occurs most often in people who are overweight and who do not exercise. It is also more common in people of Native American, Hispanic, and African-American descent. People who have migrated to Western cultures from East India, Japan, and Australian Aboriginal cultures also are more likely to develop Type II diabetes than those who remain in their original countries.
Brittle diabetics are a subgroup of Type I where patients have frequent and rapid swings of blood sugar levels between hyperglycemia (a condition where there is too much glucose or sugar in the blood) and hypoglycemia (a condition where there are abnormally low levels of glucose or sugar in the blood). These patients may require several injections of different types of insulin during the day to keep the blood sugar level within a fairly normal range.
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.
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.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a condition where nerve endings, particularly in the legs and feet, become less sensitive. Diabetic foot ulcers are a particular problem since the patient does not feel the pain of a blister, callous, or other minor injury. Poor blood circulation in the legs and feet contribute to delayed wound healing. The inability to sense pain along with the complications of delayed wound healing can result in minor injuries, blisters, or callouses becoming infected and difficult to treat. In cases of severe infection, the infected tissue begins to break down and rot away. The most serious consequence of this condition is the need for amputation of toes, feet, or legs due to severe infection.
The glucose level at which symptoms develop varies greatly from individual to individual (and from time to time in the same individual), depending in part on the duration of diabetes, the frequency of hypoglycemic episodes, the rate of fall of glycemia, and overall control. (Glucose is also the sole energy source for erythrocytes and the kidney medulla.)

Type 2 (formerly called 'adult-onset' or 'non insulin-dependent') diabetes results when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly (this is also referred to as ‘insulin resistance’). This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are over 40 years of age, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes, although today it is increasingly found in younger people.


Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (the beta cells). As a result, the body is left without enough insulin to function normally (i.e. it becomes insulin deficient). This is called an autoimmune reaction, because the body attacks itself and produces antibodies to its own insulin-producing cells, thereby destroying them.
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.
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