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Diabetes is a disease in which levels of blood glucose, also called blood sugar, are above normal. People with diabetes have problems converting food to energy. Normally, after a meal, the body breaks food down into glucose, which the blood carries to cells throughout the body. Cells use insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, to help them convert blood glucose into energy.
People develop diabetes because the pancreas does not make enough insulin or because the cells in the muscles, liver, and fat do not use insulin properly, or both. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy. Over the years, high blood glucose, also called hyperglycemia, damages nerves and blood vessels, which can lead to complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, nerve problems, gum infections, and amputation.
The two main types of diabetes are called Type 1 and Type 2. A third form of diabetes is called gestational diabetes.
A number of other types of diabetes exist. A person may exhibit characteristics of more than one type. For example, in latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), also called type 1.5 diabetes or double diabetes, people show signs of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diagnosis usually occurs after age 30.
Most people with LADA still produce their own insulin when first diagnosed, like those with type 2 diabetes, but within a few years, they must take insulin to control blood glucose levels. In LADA, as in type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas stop making insulin because the body’s immune system attacks and destroys them. Some experts believe that LADA is a slowly developing kind of type 1 diabetes.
Other types of diabetes include those caused by
More information about MODY and neonatal diabetes mellitus is in the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse’s fact sheet Monogenic Forms of Diabetes: Neonatal Diabetes Mellitus and Maturity-onset Diabetes of the Young. The fact sheet is available at diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/mody/index.htm or by calling 1–800–860–8747.
Type 1 and type 2
diabetesIn 1997, to move away from naming the two main types of diabetes based on treatment or the age at onset, an American Diabetes Association expert committee recommended universal adoption of simplified terminology. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) agrees.
In pre-diabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. However, many people with pre-diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. Experts disagree about the specific blood glucose level they should use to diagnose diabetes, and through the years, that number has changed. Individuals with pre-diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people with pre-diabetes can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
The following tests are used for diagnosis:
Test results indicating that a person has diabetes should be confirmed with a second test on a different day.
The FPG test is the preferred test for diagnosing diabetes because of its convenience and low cost. However, it will miss some diabetes or pre-diabetes that can be found with the OGTT. The FPG test is most reliable when done in the morning. Results and their meaning are shown in Table 1. People with a fasting glucose level of 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) have a form of pre-diabetes called impaired fasting glucose (IFG). Having IFG means a person has an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes but does not have it yet. A level of 126 mg/dL or above, confirmed by repeating the test on another day, means a person has diabetes.
Research has shown that the OGTT is more sensitive than the FPG test for diagnosing pre-diabetes, but it is less convenient to administer. The OGTT requires fasting for at least 8 hours before the test. The plasma glucose level is measured immediately before and 2 hours after a person drinks a liquid containing 75 grams of glucose dissolved in water. Results and their meaning are shown in Table 2. If the blood glucose level is between 140 and 199 mg/dL 2 hours after drinking the liquid, the person has a form of pre-diabetes called impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). Having IGT, like having IFG, means a person has an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes but does not have it yet. A 2-hour glucose level of 200 mg/dL or above, confirmed by repeating the test on another day, means a person has diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is also diagnosed based on plasma glucose values measured during the OGTT, preferably by using 100 grams of glucose in liquid for the test. Blood glucose levels are checked four times during the test. If blood glucose levels are above normal at least twice during the test, the woman has gestational diabetes. Table 3 shows the above-normal results for the OGTT for gestational diabetes.
A random, or casual, blood glucose level of 200 mg/dL or higher, plus the presence of the following symptoms, can mean a person has diabetes:
Other symptoms can include fatigue, blurred vision, increased hunger, and sores that do not heal. The doctor will check the person’s blood glucose level on another day using the FPG test or the OGTT to confirm the diagnosis.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that testing to detect pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes be considered in adults without symptoms who are overweight or obese and have one or more additional risk factors for diabetes. In those without these risk factors, testing should begin at age 45. The Body Mass Index Table can be used to find out whether someone is normal weight, overweight, obese, or extremely obese.
People aged 45 or older should consider getting tested for pre-diabetes or diabetes. People younger than 45 should consider testing if they are overweight, obese, or extremely obese and have one or more of the following risk factors:
If results of testing are normal, testing should be repeated at least every 3 years. Doctors may recommend more frequent testing depending on initial results and risk status. People whose test results indicate they have pre-diabetes should have their blood glucose checked again in 1 to 2 years and take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes.
When a woman is pregnant, the doctor will assess her risk for developing gestational diabetes at her first prenatal visit and order testing as needed during the pregnancy. Women who develop gestational diabetes should also have follow-up testing 6 to 12 weeks after the baby is born.
Type 2 diabetes has become more common in children and teens than in the past, and those at high risk for developing diabetes should be tested every 2 years. Testing should begin at age 10 or at puberty, whichever occurs first. Children and teens who are overweight or obese and have other risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes, are at high risk for developing diabetes.
BMI for children and teens must be determined based on age, height, weight, and sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information about BMI in children and teens, including a BMI calculator, at www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi. The CDC website also has a BMI calculator for adults.
A major research study, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), confirmed that people with IGT—pre-diabetes—were able to sharply reduce their risk of developing diabetes during the study by losing 5 to 7 percent of their body weight through dietary changes and increased physical activity. Study participants followed a low-fat, low-calorie diet and engaged in regular physical activity, such as walking briskly for 30 minutes, five times a week. These strategies worked well for both men and women and were especially effective for participants aged 60 and older.
The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) offers several booklets as part of its Small Steps, Big Rewards campaign on preventing type 2 diabetes, including information about setting goals, tracking progress, implementing a walking program, and finding additional resources. These materials are available at www.ndep.nih.gov or by calling the NDEP at 1–888–693–NDEP (6337).
People with diabetes can manage it with meal planning, physical activity, and, if needed, medications. Additional information about taking care of type 1 or type 2 diabetes is available in the publication Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. This publication is available at diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/type1and2/index.htm or by calling 1–800–860–8747.