Diabetes — also known
medically as diabetes mellitus — is a group of diseases that
affect the way your body uses blood sugar (glucose). This
sugar is vital to your health because it's your body's main
source of fuel.
Normally, glucose is able to enter your cells because of
the action of insulin — a hormone secreted by your pancreas.
Insulin acts like a key to unlock microscopic doors that
allow glucose into your cells. But in diabetes mellitus,
this process goes awry. Instead of being transported into
your cells, glucose accumulates in your bloodstream and
eventually is excreted in your urine. This usually occurs
either because your body doesn't produce enough insulin or
because the cells don't respond to insulin properly.
Diabetes mainly occurs in two forms:
- Type 1 diabetes. This
type develops when your pancreas makes little or no
insulin. It affects between 5 percent and 10 percent of
people with the disease.
- Type 2 diabetes. This
type is far more common than type 1, affecting between
90 percent and 95 percent of people with diabetes over
age 20. It occurs when your body is resistant to the
effects of insulin or your pancreas produces some, but
not enough, insulin to maintain a normal glucose level.
More Americans have diabetes than ever before. The
disease affects 17 million adults and children, yet close to
a third of them may not know they have it. That's because
diabetes can develop gradually over many years, often with
no symptoms. Both types of diabetes are serious. The
accumulation of glucose in your blood can damage almost
every major organ in your body. Eventually, diabetes can be
fatal. It's the sixth leading cause of death in the United
No one has yet found a cure for diabetes mellitus. But
the good news is that eating right, maintaining a healthy
weight and getting plenty of exercise can help prevent the
disease. And if you have diabetes, diet and exercise along
with medications that control blood sugar can help you
continue to live a healthy and active life.