Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a common disease that affects millions of people each year. Depending on the type of diabetes a person has, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells in the body don’t respond to the insulin produced and sometimes people struggle with both.

Generally speaking, diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects the way our bodies turn food into energy. When a person without diabetes eats food, most of it is digested and broken down into glucose; glucose enters the bloodstream and is carried to the cells, where it is stored and used as energy and growth.

Insulin is a key component of this process. In people without diabetes, as soon as the glucose enters the bloodstream, just the right amount of insulin is released by the pancreas to transport the glucose into the cells causing bloods sugar to drop to normal. In diabetics, the process breaks down. Either there isn’t enough insulin or the insulin produced by the body doesn’t work. Glucose remains in the bloodstream and the blood sugar gets dangerously high.


Risk Factors and Causes

Risk factors for diabetes include hereditary and environmental factors. People with a family history of diabetes are at a higher risk and Hispanics, American Indians, and African Americans are at higher risk for gestational diabetes. Women who have gestational diabetes during pregnancy have up to a 60% higher chance of developing diabetes later in life.

Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include: obesity, family history of diabetes, past gestational diabetes, glucose resistance, age (older people are more prone), lack of exercise, race, and ethnicity. Hispanics, American Indians, African Americans, some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face higher risks for type 2 diabetes.

The risk factors for Type 1 diabetes are less well known, but identified risk factors include autoimmune, genetic, and environmental issues. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children.



  • Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children. It’s a condition where the pancreas does not produce insulin, or doesn’t produce enough, forcing patients to take insulin throughout their lives.
  • Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in adults, but childhood diagnosis is becoming more common. Type 2 diabetics may be treated with oral or injectable medications or insulin; sufferers are advised to eat a sensible diet and get plenty of exercise.
  • Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. Women who have gestational diabetes are 35% to 60% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes when they are older.
  • Prediabetes is the precursor to diabetes. It is a condition where glucose tolerance is impaired, but the patient does not have diabetes. When a fasting blood glucose reading is high and an A1c reading is low, prediabetes may be the cause. Prediabetes has no symptoms and is usually diagnosed during a routine blood test.



The most telltale symptoms of diabetes are excessive thirst, increased appetite, frequent urination, and fatigue. Other symptoms include unusual changes in weight (loss or gain), nausea, blurred vision, yeast infections, and slow-healing cuts or sores. People that struggle with hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic reactions report similar symptoms.



Diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test or an oral glucose test. The fasting glucose test checks your blood glucose in the morning before any food or drink. A high reading may indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes. The A1C test measures the amount of glucose that has accumulated in the blood over a three-month time frame. An oral glucose tolerance test involves drinking a glucose liquid, then checking blood glucose every half hour to monitor spikes.



Diabetes is a potentially deadly disease with serious complications. Poorly controlled diabetes can result in kidney failure, blindness, amputations, nerve damage, heart problems, and coma. Good diabetes control means blood sugar levels are stable without high and low spikes. Diabetics who follow a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, take their medications, and test their glucose regularly can avoid complications and live a full life.


Improving Prognosis

Diet and exercise have tremendous impact on diabetes. Most doctors advise patients to follow the American Heart Association diet, a well-balanced diet based on the food pyramid. Portion control is important; overeating causes blood glucose to spike. Exercise is another important factor in diabetes control. Exercise has dozens of health benefits, including lower blood sugar, better sleep, and higher levels of natural energy.


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To learn about other common health concerns among senior, check out our Health and Conditions page; we also provide information on senior care options on our Assisted Living page.

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