What is Diabetes?

diabetes monitoring

Diabetes is a disease that causes the body to be unable to use energy from the food you eat. When a healthy person eats foods containing carbohydrates—found not only in bread, pasta, and rice but also in fruit and milk— these foods are broken down into a sugar named glucose. An organ called the pancreas senses glucose in your blood, making and releasing a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts like a “key” to cells in your body, “unlocking” them and allowing glucose to come inside. Once inside, glucose is broken down and used as energy [1].

               In diabetes, this process does not happen.

The two most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Although they are different, the result is the same: glucose can’t get into your cells and stays in your blood. This gives you high blood glucose (or more commonly called high blood sugar). Glucose then builds up in your body causing damage.

               In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin. Scientists aren’t sure why, but the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas, destroying the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes is treated through daily insulin injections. Most people develop type 1 diabetes when they are children or teenagers. About 10% of all cases of diabetes are type 1 [1].

               In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes insulin, but that insulin is unable to unlock the cell doors. This is known as insulin resistance because your cells “resist” insulin. About 90% of all cases of diabetes are type 2. Adults thirty-five years and older are most likely to develop type 2 diabetes but younger people can, too. Type 2 diabetes is treated through a healthy diet, exercise, and medication [1].

               Diabetes is dangerous because you can’t always feel high blood sugar. People may have symptoms such as increased thirst, peeing a lot, losing weight when you’re not trying to, hunger, and blurred vision [1]. Especially in type 2 diabetes, a lot of people may not know they have diabetes until their high blood sugar has caused extensive damage. The extra glucose in your blood can build up in many organs of your body—in your eyes causing blindness, in your kidneys causing kidney failure, in your heart causing a heart attack, in your nerves causing nerve damage, and in your tissues causing horrible wounds to form. All these problems may take many years to develop and by the time they are discovered, the damage is difficult to treat.

               Visiting your doctor and having labs drawn can help you catch diabetes early. Your doctor may have you take a fasting blood glucose test. Before this test, you will not eat for eight hours. If your blood glucose is above 126 mg/dL, you have diabetes. A1C is another diagnostic test your doctor may order, which averages your blood sugar levels over the last three months. If your A1C is above 6.5%, you have diabetes [2].


[1] “What is diabetes,” [Online]. Available: https://www.diabetesresearch.org/what-is-diabetes.
[2] A. D. Association, “Classification and Diagnosis of Diabetes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2019,” in Diabetes Care 2019, 2019, pp. S13-S28.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *