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Learn About Diabetes

Photo of a bood sugar testing device

The Basics

Diabetes is a disease. When you have diabetes, there is too much sugar or glucose in your blood.

How Does Diabetes Work?
The food you eat is turned into glucose. Glucose is the main source of energy for your body. Glucose is carried to other parts of the body through your blood.

When you have diabetes, your body has trouble turning glucose into energy. Instead of being used by your body, the glucose builds up in your blood. The rest of your body is starved of energy.

Diabetes can be Serious
Over time, diabetes can cause problems with your:

  • Heart
  • Eyes
  • Feet
  • Kidneys
  • Nerves
  • Other parts of your body such as teeth and hands

Learn more about the effects of diabetes on your body with this interactive tool.

Diabetes cannot be cured. But it can be controlled or prevented with diet, exercise, and medicine.

What are the Signs of Diabetes?
Many people with diabetes do not know they have the disease. Some signs of diabetes include:

  • Being very thirsty
  • Feeling tired for no reason
  • Urinating (going to the bathroom) more than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sores that do not get better
  • Blurred vision
  • Feeling "pins and needles" in your feet

If you have any of these signs, go to the doctor for a diabetes test. Not everyone with diabetes will experience these symptoms.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?
When people talk about diabetes, they are usually talking about type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most common in adults over age 40. Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.

When you have type 2 diabetes, your body has trouble using the glucose in your blood. Your blood sugar level is too high.

What is Pre-Diabetes?
Pre-diabetes means your blood glucose level is higher than normal. If you have pre-diabetes, you are at risk for getting type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

My Risk

You may be at risk for diabetes if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Exercise less than 3 times a week
  • Are over 40 years old
  • Have high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Are African American, Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American or Pacific Islander
  • Or if you have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes

Take Action

You can do a lot to prevent diabetes.

Watch Your Weight
Studies have shown that losing just 7% of your body weight can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. For a person who weighs 200 pounds, 7% of their body weight is 14 pounds.

Eat Healthy
Eating healthy foods can help you control your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol and prevent type 2 diabetes.

Get Active
Being physically active every day can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

What can I do?

If you are at risk for diabetes, or if diabetes runs in your family, talk to a doctor about ways to stay healthy.

  • What should I eat and how active should I be to stay healthy?
  • If I’m overweight, how many pounds do I have to lose to improve my health?
  • What are my blood pressure numbers and cholesterol levels? What should they be?
  • Do I have pre-diabetes or another condition that increases my risk of diabetes?
  • Are there any warning signs or symptoms I should look out for?

If you are Caring for Someone With Diabetes

Get Informed
Learn as much as you can about type 2 diabetes. Visit this Web site for easy-to-read information on diabetes.
Help Your Loved one Manage Their Disease
Controlling diabetes takes a lot of work. Check out this list of things to do every day for good diabetes care.
Eat Healthy Together
Make a family meal plan for the week and work together to prepare meals and snacks. Check out these healthy recipes for people with diabetes.
Choose Activities You Both Enjoy
Try an evening walk, gardening, or going for a bike ride. Start small and work your way up to 30 minutes of activity each day.
Take Care of Yourself
Share your feelings with your friends and family. Find a diabetes support group on the Internet. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133