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Diabetes & Heart Disease

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition in which the body can’t properly control the level of sugar in the blood. Insulin is a hormone that regulates sugar ( glucose) levels in the blood. In people with diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin as well as it should.

During digestion, carbohydrates from food are broken down into sugar, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. In response to this absorption, the pancreas secretes insulin, allowing sugar to be absorbed from the blood into cells and tissues. Cells and tissues then use the sugar for energy. When you have diabetes, sugar builds up in your blood instead of being used for energy.

Diabetes increases your risk for early death, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, as well as kidney, nerve, and eye damage.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are three major types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM)
  • Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM)
  • Gestational diabetes

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Between 5% and 10% percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease – a disease in which the body’s natural defenses turn against itself. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system kills the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Since the body cannot make enough insulin, cells can’t take up sugar in the blood. People with type 1 diabetes need daily injections of insulin for their entire life, and must follow a strict diet and monitor their blood sugar levels every day.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes usually develops in adults older than 40 years of age, most commonly those aged 55 and older. About 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas usually produces enough insulin, but the body cannot use the insulin effectively — a condition called insulin resistance. Because insulin resistance runs in families, we know that genes are partially responsible, but other factors such as obesity and lack of exercise also contribute to the development of insulin resistance. Over time, the pancreas produces less and less insulin. The end result is the same as type 1 diabetes — an unhealthy buildup of sugar in the blood.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy in women who have never had diabetes before. It occurs in 2% to 9% of pregnancies and usually disappears once the baby is born.1, 2 Gestational diabetes can be harmful to the baby, but it does not carry the same risks (e.g., early death, heart disease, stroke) to the mother as type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, women who have gestational diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.3

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition in which you have more sugar in your blood than normal, but not enough to be considered diabetic. People who have prediabetes are more likely to develop diabetes in the future. In addition, some long-term damage to the body, especially to the heart and blood vessels, may occur during prediabetes. Prediabetes may be more dangerous for women than men.4

If you have prediabetes, you can prevent it from progressing to type 2 diabetes by taking the proper steps to manage your blood sugar level.

How common is diabetes?

About 10 million American women have diabetes; 3 million of them are not even aware they have the disease.5 Another 6 million women have prediabetes.

Diabetes is nearly twice as common in African Americans and Mexican Americans as in whites, and women of these races are more likely to have diabetes than men of these races.5 In whites, men are slightly more likely to have diabetes than women. In women older than 20 years, almost 13% of African Americans and over 11% of Mexican Americans have physician-diagnosed diabetes, compared with about 5% of white women.5

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?

Many people with type 2 diabetes have no signs or symptoms, or symptoms that are so mild they do not notice them. People with type 1 diabetes tend to have more severe symptoms that appear more suddenly. The following symptoms are a sign of diabetes:

  • Increased thirst or hunger
  • Increased urination (especially at night)
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Feeling very tired
  • Very dry, itchy skin
  • Slow healing sores
  • More infections than usual (including vaginal yeast and bladder infections in women)
  • Tingling or numbness in the feet or hands
  • Blurred vision


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