Diabetes Health Center

An estimated 23.6 million people in the United States have diabetes, a serious and lifelong condition. Of those 23.6 million, 17.9 million have been diagnosed and 5.7 million have not. The number of individuals diagnosed with diabetes has risen from 1.5 million in 1958 to 18.8 million in 2010. It is estimated that 79 million adults in America 20 years and older have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Diabetes is a disorder of the body's metabolism — the way the body turns food into energy. Most of the food people eat gets broken down into glucose, which is a form of sugar in the blood. Glucose is one of the body's main sources for fuel. After our bodies digest our food, glucose passes into the bloodstream where it is absorbed by cells for growth and energy. However, for glucose to get into the cells, the hormone insulin must be present. Insulin is made by a large gland behind the stomach called the pancreas.

When we eat, our pancreas automatically creates the right amount of insulin in order to move glucose from blood into the cells. In those with diabetes, however, the pancreas makes little or no insulin or the cells do not respond correctly to the insulin which is produced. Glucose then builds up in the blood and overflows into the urine. Thereby, the body loses its primary source of fuel.

The three main types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer produces insulin because the body's own immune system has attacked and destroyed the pancreatic cells that specialize in insulin production. In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the condition, muscle, liver and fat cells in the body do not use insulin properly. As a result, the body needs more insulin to help glucose enter the cells to be converted to energy. In time, the pancreas loses its ability to make enough insulin. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that first develops during pregnancy.

Review Date: 
August 13, 2012
Last Updated:
June 2, 2014