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My Health Counts! Living Well with Diabetes

Types of Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that makes it difficult for your body to turn the food you eat into fuel. The problem is closely tied to how your body makes and uses insulin, a hormone made in your pancreas (an organ in your body). Without insulin you cannot to take food into your body and use it as energy. With diabetes the body does not make or use insulin in the right way.

When everything is working right, here’s what happens when happens when you eat:

  • You eat, and some of the food is broken down into sugars—one of the sugars is glucose, the body’s main fuel.
  • The glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream from your stomach which makes your blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels rise.
  • When your body senses an increase in sugar, it signals your pancreas to provide insulin.
  • Insulin acts as a key “unlocking” the cells throughout your body letting the sugar in.
  • Every cell in the body uses this sugar for energy. Glucose is necessary for your muscles to contract, for your brain to think, and for every other part of your body to work.

With diabetes, your body cannot move the sugar into your cells so it can be used as energy, so sugar builds up in your bloodstream. If this happens and you do not take steps to control your blood glucose levels you are putting yourself at risk for many challenging health conditions. But, by taking action, you can control your blood glucose levels, manage your diabetes and live a healthy, normal life.

There are two common types of diabetes and each type is treated a little differently.

  • In type 1 diabetes, your body makes little of no insulin.
  • In type 2 diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or it doesn’t work well.

Types of Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes don’t make any insulin, the hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. It is an auto-immune disease. An autoimmune disease results when the body’s system for fighting infection—the immune system—turns against a part of the body. In diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. A person who has type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live. At present, scientists do not know exactly what causes the body’s immune system to attack the beta cells, but they believe that autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors, possibly viruses, are involved.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the United States. It is sometimes referred to as insulin dependent or juvenile diabetes. It develops most often in children and young adults but it can occur at any age.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop over a short period, although beta cell destruction can begin years earlier. Symptoms may include increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and extreme fatigue. If not diagnosed and treated with insulin, a person with type 1 diabetes can lapse into a life-threatening diabetic coma, also known as diabetic ketoacidosis. There's nothing you can do to prevent type 1 diabetes; there is currently no known way to prevent the disease. Anyone with a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes has a slightly increased risk of developing the condition.

Type 2 Diabetes

The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. About 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2. People with type 2 diabetes either don’t make enough insulin or it doesn’t work well. Historically this form of diabetes is most often associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, previous history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity, and certain ethnicities. In recent years however, there has been a steep increase in the number of children and teens with type 2 diabetes because of the increase in obesity among these are groups. About 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.

When type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the pancreas is usually producing enough insulin, but for unknown reasons the body cannot use the insulin effectively, a condition called insulin resistance. After several years, insulin production decreases. The result is the same as for type 1 diabetes—glucose builds up in the blood and the body cannot make efficient use of its main source of fuel.

About 6 million people in the United States with type 2 diabetes don’t even know they have it yet. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop gradually. Their onset is not as sudden as in type 1 diabetes. Symptoms may include fatigue, frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and slow healing of wounds or sores. Some people have no symptoms. Often, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed during a routine medical check-up from a blood test where no symptoms are present.

There's no cure for type 2 diabetes, but you can manage — or even prevent — the condition. Start by eating healthy foods, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight. If diet and exercise aren't enough, you may need diabetes medications or insulin therapy to manage your blood sugar. Even if type 2 diabetes runs in your family, diet and exercise can help prevent the disease. If you’ve already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the same healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent serious complications.

Eat healthy foods -- Choose foods low in fat and calories. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Get more physical activity -- Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day.

Lose excess pounds -- If you're overweight, losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes.

Overview of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

CharacteristicsType 1 DiabetesType 2 Diabetes

Insulin dependant

Little or no insulin is produced by the pancreas

May or may not need insulin and may need oral medications

The pancreas produces insulin, but it may not be enough or it cannot be used by the body.

AgeUsually begins before age 20, but can occur in adultsUsually begins after age 40, but can occur earlier
SexMales and females equally affectedMore females are affected
HereditySome hereditary tendencyStrong hereditary tendency
WeightMajority experience weight loss and are thinMajority are overweight
KetonesKetones found in the urineUsually there are no ketones in the urine
TreatmentInsulin, diet, exercise, self-managementDiet, exercise, self-management, and when necessary, oral medication and/or insulin


57 million people in the United States are estimated to have pre-diabetes. People with blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are defined as having pre-diabetes. If a person does not make changes to their lifestyle and diet they will develop type 2 diabetes in ten years or less. And if you have pre-diabetes, the long-term damage of diabetes — especially to your heart and circulatory system — may already be starting.

The ball is in your court. The progression of pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes is not inevitable. With healthy lifestyle changes including eating healthy foods, including physical activity in your daily routine and maintaining a healthy weight you may be able to get your blood sugar level back to normal. And you’ll feel a lot better too.

The exact cause of pre-diabetes is unknown, although researchers have discovered some genes that are related to insulin resistance. Excess fat — especially abdominal fat — and inactivity also seem to be important factors in the development of pre-diabetes. What is clear is that people who have pre-diabetes aren't quite processing sugar (glucose) properly anymore.

The American Diabetes Association recommends blood glucose screening if you have any risk factors for pre-diabetes. This includes if:

  • You're overweight, with a body mass index above 25
  • You're inactive
  • You're age 45 or older
  • You have a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • You're African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander
  • You have a history of gestational diabetes or have given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds (4.1 kilograms)
  • You have a history of polycystic ovary syndrome
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have abnormal cholesterol levels, including an HDL cholesterol below 35 mg/dL (0.9 mmol/L) or triglyceride level above 250 mg/dL (2.83 mmol/L)

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy. Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects the way your body uses sugar (glucose) — your body's main source of fuel. Most women who have gestational diabetes can work with their health care team and deliver healthy babies. However, gestational diabetes that's not carefully managed can lead to uncontrolled blood sugar levels and cause problems for you and your baby. You can manage gestational diabetes by eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and, if necessary, taking medication. Fortunately, blood sugar levels typically return to normal soon after delivery. Immediately after pregnancy, 5% to 10% of women with gestational diabetes are found to have diabetes, usually type 2. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 40% to 60% chance of developing diabetes in the next 5–10 years. Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently among African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and American Indians. It is also more common among obese women and women with a family history of diabetes.

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Diabetes Statistics for the United States

  • In 2012, 29.1 million people, or 9.3 % of the population had diabetes
    • 21.0 million were diagnosed
    • 8.1 million were undiagnosed
  • In 2012, 86 million people have pre-diabetes, this is up from 79 million in 2010
  • 208,000 (0.25%) people under 20 have diabetes
  • In 2008—2009, the annual of diagnosed diabetes in youth was estimated at 18,436 with , 5,089 with type 2 diabetes, a condition characterized by high blood glucose levels caused by either a lack of insulin or the body's inability to use insulin efficiently. Type 2 diabetes develops most often in middle-aged and older adults but can appear in young people..
  • The percentage of Americans age 65 and older remains high, at 25.9%, or 11.8 million seniors (diagnosed and undiagnosed).

American Diabetes Association

Diabetes Resource Guide and Directory of Services

My Health Counts! TAKE ACTION! Living well with diabetes - A guide for living with and managing your diabetes. For the Diabetes Resource Guide - Click Here!

Directory of Services – full listing and description of diabetes services in all 8 Counties of Western New York - CLICK HERE!

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