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Diabetes definitions and frequently asked questions

Basic definitions

Diabetes: A disease in which the body doesn't produce or properly use insulin.

Insulin: A hormone, insulin unlocks 'doorways' in cells and allows glucose that comes from sugar, starches, and other foods, to enter the cells and be used as energy. Glucose provides the energy that the body needs to function normally and fuel daily activities.

Type 1 diabetes: This type of diabetes is attributed to about five percent to 10 percent of all diabetes patients in the United States and results from the body's failure to produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes: This type of diabetes is attributed to about 90 percent to 95 percent of the all diabetes patients in the United States and results from the body's inability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin and the body's resistance to insulin, which means that the body doesn't use insulin effectively.

Gestational diabetes: This type of diabetes accounts for about 135,000 diabetes patients annually in the United States and occurs in approximately four percent of pregnant women. While most women recover from gestational diabetes after they give birth, they have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Myths vs. facts


Back to diabetes main page

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about diabetes

What causes diabetes?
While an exact cause has not been identified, diabetes is linked to uncontrollable factors such as genetics, race, age, and controllable environmental factors, such as obesity and lack of exercise.

Does diabetes have a cure?
Diabetes isn't a curable disease but it's manageable. With proper management, many of the serious complications can be prevented or minimized.

Who has diabetes and who's at risk?

  • According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), about 17 million people in the United States have diabetes, including 11.1 million diagnosed cases and the 5.9 million undiagnosed cases. Approximately one in every three persons has diabetes but doesn't know.
  • According to the Florida Department of Health:
    • More than 900,000 adults in Florida were diagnosed with diabetes as of the year 2000.
    • Approximately 300,000 to 400,000 adults remain undiagnosed.
    • More Floridians are diagnosed with diabetes than the total population of each of the following states: Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming (based on 1999 estimated population census data).
    • Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death among Floridians from 1997 through 1999.
    • In Florida, more deaths were due to diabetes than HIV/AIDS from 1997 through 1999.
  • African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Persons who are obese and/or those who are inactive have a much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Age is also a risk factor. More than 20 percent of the U.S. population ages 65 and older have diabetes.
  • Diabetes isn't just a disease of the elderly. More and more children are developing Type 2 diabetes, an alarming trend that's being partially blamed on the increasing rate of childhood obesity.

What are the complications of diabetes?

  • People with diabetes develop heart disease at twice the rate of those without diabetes, and 80 percent of people with diabetes die from heart or blood vessel disease.
  • People with diabetes are five times more likely to have a stroke.
  • People with diabetes who have already had a stroke are two to four times more likely to have another stroke.
  • Of the new cases of blindness in persons age 20 to 74, diabetes is the leading cause.
  • Each year, diabetes causes 12,000 to 24,000 people to lose their sight.
  • Forty-three percent of new kidney disease cases are attributed to diabetes, and diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease.
  • Diabetes is the most frequent cause of nontraumatic lower limb amputations.
  • Every year, more than 82,000 people with diabetes have amputations, a fact that's not surprising when you consider that the risk of leg amputation alone is 15 to 40 times greater in persons with diabetes.
  • Projections for 2003 predicted that more than 210,000 deaths in the United States would be caused from complications of diabetes.

What are the benefits of properly managing diabetes?
According to the Florida Department of Health, people who can control their diabetes by maintaining normal or close to normal blood sugar levels lower their risk of complications and gain, on average:

  • Five extra years of life
  • Five more years of eyesight
  • Six years free from kidney disease
  • Six years free from amputations and nerve damage
  • Enjoy a better quality of life

Where can I learn more about diabetes?
You can learn more by visiting the following web sites: