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2003 National Diabetes Fact Sheet
This webpage is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being maintained or updated.
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What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases characterized by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. Diabetes can be associated with serious complications and premature death, but people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications.
Types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes was previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile-onset diabetes. Type 1 diabetes develops when the body's immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that make the hormone insulin that regulates blood glucose. This form of diabetes usually strikes children and young adults, although disease onset can occur at any age. Type 1 diabetes may account for 5% to 10% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Risk factors for type 1 diabetes may include autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors.
Type 2 diabetes was previously called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. It usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder in which the cells do not use insulin properly. As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents.
Gestational diabetes is a form of glucose intolerance that is diagnosed in some women during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently among African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and American Indians. It is also more common among obese women and women with a family history of diabetes. During pregnancy, gestational diabetes requires treatment to normalize maternal blood glucose levels to avoid complications in the infant. After pregnancy, 5% to 10% of women with gestational diabetes are found to have type 2 diabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 20% to 50% chance of developing diabetes in the next 5-10 years.
Other specific types of diabetes result from specific genetic conditions (such as maturity-onset diabetes of youth), surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections, and other illnesses. Such types of diabetes may account for 1% to 5% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.
- To survive, people with type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injections or a pump.
- Many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose by following a careful diet and exercise program, losing excess weight, and taking oral medication.
- Many people with diabetes also need to take medications to control their cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Diabetes self-management education is an integral component of medical care.
- Among adults with diagnosed diabetes, 12% take both insulin and oral medications, 19% take insulin only, 53% take oral medications only, and 15% do not take either insulin or oral medications.
Source: 1999–2001 National Health Interview Survey
Detailed information about this graph is available.
Prediabetes: Impaired glucose tolerance and impaired fasting glucose
- Prediabetes is a term used to distinguish people who are at increased risk of developing diabetes. People with prediabetes have impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). Some people may have both IFG and IGT.
- IFG is a condition in which the fasting blood sugar level is elevated (100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL) after an overnight fast but is not high enough to be classified as diabetes.
- IGT is a condition in which the blood sugar level is elevated (140 to 199 mg/dL) after a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test, but is not high enough to be classified as diabetes.
- In a cross-section of U.S. adults aged 40-74 years who were tested from 1988 to 1994, 33.8% had IFG, 15.4% had IGT, and 40.1% had prediabetes (IGT or IFG or both). Were these percentages applied to the 2000 U.S. population, about 35 million adults aged 40-74 would have IFG, 16 million would have IGT, and 41 million would have prediabetes.
- Progression to diabetes among those with prediabetes is not inevitable. Studies suggest that weight loss and increased physical activity among people with prediabetes prevent or delay diabetes and may return blood glucose levels to normal.
- People with prediabetes are already at increased risk for other adverse health outcomes such as heart disease and stroke.
Prevention or delay of diabetes
Research studies have found that lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes among high-risk adults. These studies included people with IGT and other high-risk characteristics for developing diabetes. Lifestyle interventions included diet and moderate-intensity physical activity (such as walking for 2 1/2 hours each week). In the Diabetes Prevention Program, a large prevention study of people at high risk for diabetes, the development of diabetes was reduced 58% over 3 years.
Studies have also shown that medications have been successful in preventing diabetes in some population groups. In the Diabetes Prevention Program, people treated with the drug metformin reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 31% over 3 years. Treatment with metformin was most effective among younger, heavier people (those 25-40 years of age who were 50 to 80 pounds overweight) and less effective among older people and people who were not as overweight. Similarly, in the STOP-NIDDM Trial, treatment of people with IGT with the drug acarbose reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 25% over 3 years. Other medication studies are ongoing. In addition to preventing progression from IGT to diabetes, both lifestyle changes and medication have also been shown to increase the probability of reverting from IGT to normal glucose tolerance
There are no known methods to prevent type 1 diabetes. Several clinical trials are currently in progress or being planned.
Prevention of diabetes complications
Diabetes can affect many parts of the body and can lead to serious complications such as blindness, kidney damage, and lower-limb amputations. Working together, people with diabetes and their health care providers can reduce the occurrence of these and other diabetes complications by controlling the levels of blood glucose, blood pressure, and blood lipids and by receiving other preventive care practices in a timely manner.
Research studies in the United States and abroad have found that improved glycemic control benefits people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In general, for every 1% reduction in results of A1C blood tests (e.g., from 8.0% to 7.0%), the risk of developing microvascular diabetic complications (eye, kidney, and nerve disease) is reduced by 40%.
Blood pressure control
- Blood pressure control can reduce cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) by approximately 33% to 50% and can reduce microvascular disease (eye, kidney, and nerve disease) by approximately 33%.
- In general, for every 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) reduction in systolic blood pressure, the risk for any complication related to diabetes is reduced by 12%.
Control of blood lipids
- Improved control of cholesterol or blood lipids (for example, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides) can reduce cardiovascular complications by 20% to 50%.
Preventive care practices for eyes, kidneys, and feet
- Detecting and treating diabetic eye disease with laser therapy can reduce the development of severe vision loss by an estimated 50% to 60%.
- Comprehensive foot care programs can reduce amputation rates by 45% to 85%.
- Detecting and treating early diabetic kidney disease by lowering blood pressure can reduce the decline in kidney function by 30% to 70%. Treatment with ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are more effective in reducing the decline in kidney function than other blood pressure lowering drugs.