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Frequently Asked Questions About Diabetes

Introduction

Of the estimated 13 to 14 million people in the United States with diabetes, between 90 and 95 percent have noninsulin-dependent or type II diabetes. Formerly called adult-onset, this form of diabetes usually begins in adults over age 40, and is most common after age 55. Nearly half of people with diabetes don't know it because the symptoms often develop gradually and are hard to identify at first. The person may feel tired or ill without knowing why. Diabetes can cause problems that damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Although there is no cure for diabetes yet, daily treatment helps control blood sugar, and may reduce the risk of complications. Under a doctor's supervision, treatment usually involves a combination of weight loss, exercise, and medication.

Recommended Related to Diabetes

Are You in Diabetes Denial?

Don White, 68, a retired science teacher from upstate New York, first suspected he had type 2 diabetes when he was 45 years old and his school held a health fair for students and teachers. A simple prick of his finger to test for high blood sugar -- a sign of diabetes -- revealed some unexpected news. "My numbers were way above normal," says White. "In a matter of days, and a couple of doctor's appointments later, I found out I had type 2 diabetes." White and his family were surprised by the diagnosis...

Read the Are You in Diabetes Denial? article > >

Points to Remember

  • Only a doctor can treat diabetes.
  • Treatment usually involves weight loss, exercise, and medication.
  • Daily treatment helps control diabetes and may reduce the risk of complications.

What Is Diabetes?

The two types of diabetes, insulin-dependent (type 1) and noninsulin-dependent (type 2), are different disorders. While the causes, short-term effects, and treatments for the two types differ, both can cause the same long-term health problems. Both types also affect the body's ability to use digested food for energy. Diabetes doesn't interfere with digestion, but it does prevent the body from using an important product of digestion, glucose (commonly known as sugar), for energy.

After a meal the digestive system breaks some food down into sugar. The blood carries the sugar throughout the body, causing blood sugar levels to rise. In response to this rise the hormone insulin is released into the bloodstream to signal the body tissues to metabolize or burn the sugar for fuel, causing blood sugar levels to return to normal. A gland called the pancreas, found just behind the stomach, makes insulin. Sugar the body doesn't use right away goes to the liver, muscle, or fat for storage.

In someone with diabetes, this process doesn't work correctly. In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn't produce insulin. This condition usually begins in childhood. People with this kind of diabetes must have daily insulin injections to survive.

In people with type 2 diabetes the pancreas usually produces some insulin, but the body doesn't respond very well to the insulin signal and, therefore, doesn't metabolize the sugar properly, a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is an important factor in type 2 diabetes.

Points to Remember

  • Diabetes interferes with the body's use of food for energy.
  • While type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different disorders, they can cause the same complications.

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