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Estimated number of Americans with undiagnosed diabetes.

Diabetes Overview

Diabetes occurs when your body can’t properly convert food into energy due to a lack of insulin, a vital hormone produced by the pancreas, or because of the body’s inability to use insulin. When your body is functioning correctly, most of the food you eat is converted into glucose, a form of sugar, and moved into your cells. When you have diabetes, the sugar builds up in your blood instead of moving into the cells. Too much sugar in the blood can lead to serious problems, including heart disease and damage to the nerves and kidneys.

Types of Diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes - Once called “juvenile diabetes”, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas makes little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to live.
  • Type 2 diabetes - Once called “adult onset diabetes”, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when the pancreas still produces some insulin. The body may not be able to use the insulin it makes, or it may not make enough insulin to keep blood glucose in the normal range. People with type 2 diabetes may be able to control it with diet and physical activity. They may also need to take medication, including insulin.
  • Gestational diabetes - Three to 7 percent of women have gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can often be treated with a healthy meal plan and physical activity, but some women require insulin or other medication. Blood glucose usually returns to normal levels after the baby is born. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Pre-diabetes - With pre-diabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but they are not yet high enough to be considered diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a warning that progression of the disease is likely unless steps are taken to prevent or delay onset. Even at the pre-diabetes stage, a healthy diet, weight loss and exercise may delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.


Watch for these signs and symptoms if you suspect that you may have diabetes, though some people with diabetes may not exhibit any symptoms at all.

  • Blurred vision
  • Little or no energy
  • Thirst or hunger
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Sudden weight change
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • Slow-healing cuts or sores
  • Frequent yeast infections
  • Erectile dysfunction

Risk Factors

  • Obesity is the most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The more overweight you are, the more resistant your body is to insulin.
  • Risk for type 2 diabetes increases with age, especially after age 45.
  • Your risk for diabetes is higher if your mother, father or sibling has diabetes.
  • A diet high in fat, calories and cholesterol increases your risk of diabetes.

Some ethnic groups have a higher risk of diabetes than others. You are at greater risk if you are:

  • Native American
  • Hispanic American
  • African American
  • Pacific Islander


The American Diabetes Association warns people with uncontrolled diabetes about the possibility of complications including:

  • Heart disease and stroke — More than two out of three people with diabetes die with heart disease.
  • Kidney disease - Diabetes can weaken the kidney's ability to remove waste products from the blood and increase the risk of kidney disease.
  • Eye problems - People with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma and cataracts than people without diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness.
  • Gum disease - Diabetes increases the odds of developing gum disease.
  • Nerve damage - Called diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage generally occurs in people who have had diabetes for a number of years.
  • Foot problems - Extra dry skin, loss of sensation in the feet, calluses or foot ulcers are common problems for people with diabetes.
  • Skin problems - If you are diabetic and notice a rash, blisters, fungus, cut or any change in the appearance of your skin, contact your WellStar physician.
  • Gastroparesis - One of the results of damage to the nerves is a condition that slows the emptying of the stomach following a meal. Called gastroparesis, this condition can make controlling blood glucose even more difficult.
  • Depression - People with diabetes are more inclined toward depression than people without diabetes.

Contact your WellStar physician if you experience any of these complications.


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