Diabetes Basics

What is Diabetes?

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Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.

Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

For more information, see the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse publication, Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

What is Prediabetes?

A person with prediabetes has a blood sugar level higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. He or she is at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, including heart disease, and stroke. Without lifestyle changes to improve their health, 15% to 30% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years.

A person with certain risk factors is more likely to develop prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. These risk factors include:

  • age, especially after 45 years of age
  • being overweight or obese
  • a family history of diabetes
  • having an African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander racial or ethnic background
  • a history of diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes) or having given birth to a baby weighing nine pounds or more
  • being physically active less than three times a week

What is Gestational Diabetes?

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Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy (gestation). Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose). Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar that can affect your pregnancy and your baby’s health. In gestational diabetes, blood sugar usually returns to normal soon after delivery. But if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes. You’ll continue working with your health care team to monitor and manage your blood sugar. More information

Did You Have Gestational Diabetes When You Were Pregnant?
Women with a history of gestational diabetes have a greater chance of getting diabetes later in life. Their offspring have a greater chance of becoming obese and getting type 2 diabetes. This tip sheet encourages women who had gestational diabetes to get tested for diabetes after pregnancy and take actions to help the whole family stay healthy. More information