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Diabetes is a serious disease. It happens when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it well. This causes high levels of glucose (blood sugar) to build up in the blood. As a result, the body does not work like it should.

Untreated diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems. These include blindness, kidney disease, nerve disease, limb amputations and cardiovascular disease.

Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes happens when the body stops making insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when some insulin is made, but the body cannot use it well. Type 2 diabetes is more common.

What Happens in Your Body?

  • The food we eat is digested in our stomach. Here it is turned into glucose, or blood sugar.
  • Blood takes glucose to our cells.
  • Glucose must enter into our cells so that we can have energy. Glucose needs the help of insulin to do this.
  • Glucose cannot enter into our cells if our body does not make enough insulin or if our cells cannot use the insulin well. This means the glucose will build up in the blood.
  • People who have high levels of glucose in their blood have prediabetes or diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop over time. Some people have symptoms and others do not. Common symptoms include:

  • Thirsty
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling tired
  • Hungry
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Very dry skin
  • Blurry vision
  • "Pins and needles" feeling in the feet
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Feeling irritable​

Why is Diabetes Dangerous?

Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke​. Over time, high blood glucose damages the body. Diabetes can lead to blindness, amputation, kidney problems, and death.

Are You at Risk for Developing Type 2 Diabetes?

You are more likely to get type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Are overweight, especially if you have extra weight around your waist.
  • Have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes.
  • Are African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
  • Have had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes).
  • Have given birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more.
  • Have blood pressure​ that is 140/90 mmHg or higher, or your physician has told you that you have high blood pressure.
  • Have cholesterol levels that are not normal. Your HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) is 40 mg/dL or lower or your triglyceride level is 150 mg/dL or higher.
  • Do very little physical activity. For example, less than 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity and less than 2 days of strengthening activities per week.

Do You Have Diabetes?

One way to find out if you have prediabetes or diabetes is to get your fasting blood glucose checked by your physician.

  • If your fasting blood glucose level is below 100 mg/dL, good for you! Keep up the good work!
  • If your fasting blood glucose level is 100 to 125 mg/dL, your glucose levels are higher than normal. You are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Take steps to prevent. Find ways to lose weight and increase your physical activity to at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week.
  • If your fasting blood glucose level is 126 mg/dL​​ or higher, work with your doctor to control your diabetes. Learn the ABCs of controlling diabetes – (A) A1C test, (B) blood pressure, and (C) cholesterol.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths. If you or a loved one have diabetes, it's important to regularly monitor your heart health. Talk to your doctor about preventative heart screenings​.

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