Diabetes 101

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to properly use and store glucose (a form of sugar). Glucose backs up in the bloodstream causing a person’s blood glucose to rise too high. 
 
 
What are the types of diabetes?
 
Type 1 occurs when the pancreas cannot make insulin. Insulin helps glucose get into cells to give them energy. Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and young adults, though it can be diagnosed at any age. 
 
Type 2 occurs when the body does not produce insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.  This type is associated with obesity, family history, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. 
 
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy.  Pregnancy hormones may block insulin and glucose levels rise in the blood.  Women at greater risk for gestational diabetes may have a family history of diabetes. 
 
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Typical symptoms include: frequent urination; excessive thirst; unexplained weight loss; extreme hunger; sudden vision changes; tingling or numbness in hands or feet; feeling very tired; and dry skin. 
 
What happens when diabetes is not controlled?
High blood sugar from diabetes causes damage to blood vessels. When glucose (sugar) accumulates in the blood, the excess glucose can attach to proteins in the vessels and alter their normal structure. This damage can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, and lower limb amputations.   
 
How can diabetes be treated?
There is currently no “cure” for diabetes. Treatment can range from eating healthy, creating an exercise program and losing excess weight, to taking oral hypoglycemic pills or injecting insulin.     
 
How do I know if I have diabetes? 
For many, diabetes symptoms seem harmless and many people go undiagnosed. Getting a test can lead to a diagnosis of diabetes from your doctor. There are three types of tests to screen for diabetes: the fasting plasma glucose (FPG); oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT); and the random plasma glucose test (RPGT). 
 
What is pre-diabetes?
Pre-diabetes may occur when blood glucose tests are higher than normal but not enough for your doctor to diagnose you with diabetes. For people with pre-diabetes, losing weight and increasing physical activity can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.   
 

 
► What are comorbidities?  
Comorbidities are the presence of two or more medical conditions in addition to the primary disease.  Individuals with diabetes may also suffer from other conditions including: heart disease; stroke; hypertension; eye disease; kidney disease, nervous system disease, and non-traumatic lower limb amputations. These comorbid conditions can impact treatment for people with diabetes. 
 
High blood sugar from diabetes causes damage to blood vessels. When glucose (sugar) accumulates in the blood, the excess glucose can attach to proteins in the vessels and alter their normal structure. This damage can lead to heart, kidney, and nervous system diseases.
 
 ► What are disparities? 
Healthcare disparities occur when gaps to the quality of care or access to care differ among specific sub-groups.  The differences in health outcomes may affect people based on socio-economic, racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation, among other factors.   
 
What are some disparities in diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is more common in Caucasians than in African-Americans, American-Indians, Asians, and Hispanics. Compared to non-Hispanic white adults, the risk of having diabetes type 2 was 18 percent higher among Asian Americans, 66 percent higher among Hispanics, and 77 percent higher among non-Hispanic blacks.
 
 

 
What are the costs of diabetes?  
In 2007, the total direct and indirect cost of diabetes was $174 billion. Indirect cost (disability, work loss, premature mortality) was an estimated $58 billion in 2007. 
 
► What can state legislators do? 
Women In Government’s Diabetes Task Force has made policy recommendations for state legislatorsNumerous pilot programs and projects are available to address diabetes. Our Diabetes Legislative Toolkit is available to raise awareness of diabetes in your state.