What is Diabetes?

Diabetes develops when the body cannot properly use the energy provided by food. 

When someone without diabetes eats, the body breaks down the food into a type of sugar called glucose. The sugar then enters the blood and causes blood sugar levels to rise. When this happens, the pancreas releases the necessary amount of insulin which allows the sugar to enter the body's cells at the appropriate levels. The level of sugar in the blood then falls to normal levels and the body cells use the sugar as fuel.

However, when someone has diabetes, this cycle does not work because either not enough insulin is released or the insulin does not work properly to allow sugar to enter the body’s cells. Because the sugar has built up in the bloodstream instead of being used by body cells, the blood sugar levels do not fall. Body cells now lack enough sugar to use as fuel because the sugar stays in the bloodstream.

Types of Diabetes

The main types of diabetes include type 1 and type 2. Additional types include gestational diabetes and type 1.5 or LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults).


Type 1

  • Often begins in childhood
  • May also begin in adulthood (known as LADA – see below)
  • The body makes little to no insulin
  • Insulin injections are required
  • Oral medications may supplement insulin

Symptoms – almost always come on suddenly

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss

Possible Causes

  • Family history of type 1 diabetes
  • Environmental factors such as a viral infection that injures the pancreas
  • Autoimmune condition that destroys the insulin-making islet cells of the pancreas


Type 2

  • More common than type 1 diabetes
  • Typically begins over age 40 but now being seen in children at an alarming rate
  • The body may make insulin but either not enough or the body cannot use it
  • Can often be managed by nutrition and lifestyle changes alone
  • Supplemental insulin/oral medication may be necessary   

Symptoms – may develop over a long period of time

  • Weakness and fatigue                                   
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Numbness, tingling of hands/feet
  • Frequent infections
  • Slow healing cuts and sores
  • Blurry eyesight
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger

Risk Factors

  • Over 40 years old
  • Overweight
  • Sedentary
  • Family history
  • Had gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • African, Hispanic, or Native American


Gestational Diabetes

  • Develops during pregnancy
  • Women over 30 years of age with a family history have the greatest risk of developing
  • If occurs in one pregnancy, more likely to occur in later pregnancies
  • 40-60% of those who had gestational diabetes may develop type 2 diabetes in the next 15-20 years. This risk can be reduced with exercise and weight maintenance.


Type 1.5 or LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults)

  • An autoimmune diabetes like type 1, but symptoms appear more slowly
  • Often misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes due to similar symptoms and begins in adulthood (usually over age 30)
  • Occurs in approximately 10% of all people with diabetes
  • Insulin injections may not be required for many months or even years after diagnosis