Diabetes Overview

Diabetes impacts nearly 26 million Americans, and if you don’t have diabetes, you probably know someone who does.

The body’s main source of energy is glucose, a type of sugar, but having too much sugar in your blood can be a problem. To help the body lower blood sugar, the pancreas releases insulin – a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy by most of the body’s cells. When a person has diabetes, it means they have too much sugar in their blood because their body does not make enough insulin and/or it does not use insulin in the proper way. Diabetes can be divided into two main categories, type 1 and type 2, both of which can lead to serious long-term health problems when not managed properly.

  • Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, but can occur at any age, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Of the nearly 26 million Americans living with diabetes, 5 to 10 percent have type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin
  • Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90 to 95 percent of people with the disease. Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and many more are unaware they are at high risk for developing the condition. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin and/or the body cannot utilize insulin effectively

Blood sugar control is an essential aspect of diabetes management, and it’s important to understand your blood sugar goals to best manage your diabetes. Check out the Blood Sugar Overview tab for more information on how you can work with your diabetes healthcare team to set and attain individualized blood sugar goals.

Risk factors

Type 2 diabetes is developed due to both genetics and lifestyle choices, including not making healthy food choices and lack of physical activity. Some people are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others including:

  • Those over age 45
  • Those with a family history of diabetes
  • Those who are overweight
  • Those who do not exercise regularly
  • Those with low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides, high blood pressure
  • Certain racial and ethnic groups (e.g., African-Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans)
  • Women who had gestational diabetes, or who have had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth

Common symptoms

  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue and irritability
  • Blurred vision

People should contact their healthcare providers if they experience any of these symptoms. Some people may have type 2 diabetes without any symptoms, so it’s important to get regular blood tests, especially if you are at a higher risk for developing diabetes.

Complications

When your diabetes is not controlled properly and your blood sugar stays too high for a long time, it can damage blood vessels and nerves. This damage can affect many of the organ systems in your body and can raise your risk of complications, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Eye problems and blindness
  • Heart disease and blood vessel disease, such as heart attack and stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Nerve damage to feet
  • Gum disease
  • Dry, itchy skin and skin infections
  • Wounds that are slow to heal

The good news is that it is possible to help reduce the risk of complications of diabetes through careful management of your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Management

To help reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications, talk with your diabetes healthcare team (primary care provider, endocrinologist and/or diabetes educator) about how to manage your ABCs – A1C, Blood pressure and Cholesterol.

  • A1C testing shows your blood sugar average over the last 2-3 months, and the result of this test is crucial in helping your doctor understand your blood sugar control, which is a main goal of type 2 diabetes treatment
    • The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) recommends an A1C of less than 6.5% for many patients with diabetes. A higher A1C may be appropriate for some people, so you should speak with your doctor about what goal is right for you. High blood glucose levels over time can harm your heart and blood vessels, kidneys, feet, and eyes
  • Blood pressure goal for many patients with diabetes is <130/80mmHg. High blood pressure can contribute to heart attack, stroke and kidney disease
  • Cholesterol goals for most people with diabetes include an LDL of less than 100mg/dL. LDL cholesterol can build up and clog blood vessels, causing heart attacks or strokes


Etie Moghissi, MD, FACP, FACE

Dr. Etie Moghissi is a clinical endocrinologist involved in patient care in private practice in Marina del Rey, California, as well as an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology and is a member of the board of trustees of the American Collage of Endocrinology.

As a clinical endocrinologist, I treat a number of people with type 2 diabetes and know that managing the disease can be a difficult undertaking. The initial diagnosis is often overwhelming and many patients do not realize that high blood sugar levels over time can lead to serious long-term complications.

That’s why I’m working on the Blood Sugar Basics: Get to Your Goals program to provide you with clear tools and missions that encourage you to know your A1C and talk to your diabetes healthcare team (including your primary care provider, endocrinologist, and/or diabetes educator) about setting and attaining your blood sugar goals.

By working with your diabetes healthcare team, you can develop an individualized treatment plan and learn more about how lifestyle changes, such as meal planning and physical activity, and medication, when prescribed, all play key roles in helping you reach your A1C goal and blood sugar goals. For more advice about type 2 diabetes management and the importance of teaming up with your doctor, click here.

I am very excited about Get to Your Goals and hope that you find it to be a helpful resource. I know how important it is for people with type 2 diabetes to work with their diabetes healthcare team to set personal goals and a plan for achieving them, and that’s exactly where you’ll start with the first mission of Get to Your Goals – Gather Intelligence.