Diabetes 101: What to Know

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Diabetes 101

Diabetes overview

Diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose (sugar) is too high. The body uses glucose from food as a source of energy, much like a car uses gasoline for fuel. Insulin, a hormone that is made in the pancreas, moves glucose from the bloodstream into cells to be used for energy. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin (or stops making insulin altogether), or doesn’t use its own insulin as well as it should. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood and can’t get into cells to be used for energy.

Diabetes causes

There are many types of diabetes. Two of the main types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas (called beta cells) that make insulin. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes isn’t known, but scientists think that genes or environmental factors (such as viruses) could be responsible.

Type 2 diabetes is also caused by genes, as well as lifestyle factors, such as being overweight and not getting enough physical activity. The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented by losing between 5% and 10% of your body weight and aiming to get at least 15 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.

Who gets diabetes?

About 34.2 million (10.5%) Americans have diabetes. Anyone at any age can get either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5% of cases of diabetes. However, type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescents. But again, adults get type 1 diabetes, too. Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include genes from both parents and environmental factors such as cold weather and viruses. Scientists think that people who are breastfed as infants and introduced to solid foods at a later age are less likely to get type 1 diabetes.

There are more risk factors for type 2 diabetes, and it’s more common than type 1 diabetes, accounting for 90% to 95% of cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes risk factors include:

• older age
• being of certain ethnic and racial groups (African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)
family history
• being overweight or obese
• having prediabetes
• having had gestational diabetes or a baby weighing more than 9 pounds at birth
polycystic ovary syndrome
• inactivity

Originally Published March 25, 2019

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