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Diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly convert food into energy. Over time, the high blood glucose levels caused by the condition can lead to several health problems and complications. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. Effectively managing the condition is critical to help minimize the risks of future complications.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body cannot properly convert food into energy. It is associated with long-term complications that affect almost every part of the body. The condition often leads to problems such as:
  • Blindness
  • Heart and blood vessel disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Amputations
  • Nerve damage.
Uncontrolled diabetes can complicate pregnancy, and birth defects are more common in babies born to women who have it.
In order to understand this condition, it is helpful to first understand normal digestion and the role of insulin.

Understanding Digestion and Insulin

Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose, the form of sugar in the blood. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body.
After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream, where it is used by cells for growth and energy. For glucose to get into the cells, insulin must be present. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach.
When we eat, the pancreas automatically produces the right amount of insulin to move glucose from the blood into our cells. People with diabetes do not make insulin, do not use insulin properly, or both. This causes glucose to build up in the blood instead of moving into the cells. As a result, people with the condition often feel:
  • Tired
  • Hungry
  • Thirsty.
They may also lose weight, urinate often, or have trouble with their eyes.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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