What is Diabetes?

Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin dependent diabetes which is often called “juvenile” diabetes, because it usually develops in children and teenagers, though it can develop at any age. With type 1, the body’s immune system attacks part of its own pancreas. Scientists are not sure why. But the immune system mistakenly sees the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as foreign, and destroys them. These cells – called “islets” – are the ones that sense glucose in the blood and, in response, produce the necessary amount of insulin to normalize blood sugars. Insulin serves as a “key” to open your cells, to allow the glucose to enter -- and allow you to use the glucose for energy. Without insulin, there is no “key.” So, the sugar stays -- and builds up-- in the blood. The result: the body’s cells starve from the lack of glucose and it is necessary to take insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes

The other major form of diabetes is called type 2, or non-insulin dependent diabetes. This is also called “adult onset,” since it typically develops after age 35. However, a growing number of younger people are now developing type 2 as well. People with type 2 are able to produce some of their own insulin. Often, it’s not enough. And sometimes, the insulin will try to serve as the “key” to open the body’s cells, to allow the glucose to enter, but the key will not work. The cells will not open. This is called insulin resistance. Often, type 2 is tied to people who are overweight.

Additional Facts about Diabetes

More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, including 1 in 4 don’t know it.

Diabetes impacts all social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds.

Medical costs and lost work and wages for people with diagnosed diabetes totals 245 billion yearly.

Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin, which is produced by islet cells found in the pancreas.

Insulin helps regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels – providing energy to body cells and tissues.

Without insulin, the body’s cells would be starved, causing dehydration and destruction of body tissue.

Injecting insulin is not a cure for diabetes. It is a critical life-saving component of a daily treatment program.

Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in America (and may be underreported).

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2017.)