Diabetes

[dahy-uh-bee-teez]

Family eating

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.  With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and is unable to keep blood sugar at normal levels. When there isn’t enough insulin or when cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream, which over time can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

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Key Facts

  • More than 30 million Americans are living with diabetes, and more than 84 million US adults have prediabetes.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among working-age Americans.
  • More than 60% of leg and foot amputations not related to accidents and injuries are performed on people with diabetes.
  • The risk for stroke is more than two times as high among people with diabetes.
  • About 1 in 3 adults with diabetes has chronic kidney disease, which can lead to kidney failure.
  • Good diabetes care (including self-care) and diabetes self-management education and support are key to living well with diabetes.

People with prediabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but they can take action to help prevent or delay it.

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Three related women

Know Your Risk

You are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes if you have a parent, brother, or sister who has type 2 diabetes; are overweight; are 45 years or older; are physically active fewer than 3 times a week; or have ever had gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant) or given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds. African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are also at higher risk. If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested.

Feet

Check Your Feet

If you have diabetes, check your feet daily for sores, blisters, and other problems that could become serious if not treated early.

Pregnant woman

Get Tested During Pregnancy

Talk to your doctor about getting tested for diabetes if you are pregnant. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born; however, your risk and your baby’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life is higher. Visit your doctor to have your blood sugar tested 6 to 12 weeks after delivery and then every 1 to 3 years.

Doctor with patient

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of early death among people with diabetes. Adults with diabetes are more than two times as likely as people without diabetes to die of heart disease or have a stroke. Also, 3 in 4 people with diabetes have high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease.

Woman and optometrist

Vision Impairment

High blood sugar and high blood pressure can cause small blood vessels to swell and leak liquid into the retina of the eye, blurring the vision and sometimes leading to blindness. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop cataracts (clouding of the lens) and glaucoma (a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve).

National Diabetes Prevention Program

Prediabetes is a wake-up call that type 2 diabetes could be in your future, but it can be reversed. The CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) lifestyle change program has been proven to help people make the lifestyle changes needed to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Through the program, participants:

  • Work with a trained coach to make lasting lifestyle changes.
  • Discover how to eat healthy and add more physical activity into their day.
  • Find out how to manage stress, stay motivated, and solve problems that can slow progress.

If you are told you have prediabetes, ask your doctor or nurse if there is a National DPP lifestyle change program offered in your community.
Visit CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation to learn more.

Page last reviewed: November 12, 2019