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What is diabetes?

Blood glucose, or blood sugar, is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps convert glucose from food into energy.

Sometimes your body doesn’t make any or enough insulin, or doesn’t use insulin well, which causes glucose to stay in blood and it cannot reach your cells. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause health problems such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and other issues.

Although diabetes has no cure, you can take steps to manage your diabetes and stay healthy. There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational.


  • increased thirst and urination
  • increased hunger
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
  • sores that do not heal
  • unexplained weight loss

Types of diabetes

The most common types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1

If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes, sometimes called “juvenile diabetes,” is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive.

Type 2

Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not make or use insulin well. You can develop type 2 at any age, even during childhood. You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are age 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes, or are overweight. Physical inactivity, race, and certain health problems such as high blood pressure also affect your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. You are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you have prediabetes or had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops in some women when they are pregnant. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born. However, if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Sometimes diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy is actually type 2 diabetes.

Reduce the risk

Research shows that you can do a lot to reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. This includes:

  • Lose weight and keep it off. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5–7% of your starting weight.
  • Exercise often: Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. Start slowly to build up to your goal.
  • Eat healthy. Eat smaller portions to reduce the amount of calories you eat each day and help you lose weight. Choosing foods with less fat is another way to reduce calories. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages.


Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. Having prediabetes is serious because it raises your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Many of the same factors that raise your chance of developing type 2 diabetes are the same for prediabetes. You won’t know if you have prediabetes unless you are tested. If you have prediabetes, you can lower your chance of developing type 2 diabetes by losing weight, becoming more physically active and following reduced-calorie diet plan.


Controlling blood sugar through diet, oral medications or insulin is the main treatment. Regular screening for complications is also required.

When to see your doctor

Your primary care provider can diagnose diabetes, prediabetes and gestational diabetes through blood tests. The blood tests show if your blood glucose is too high. Testing equipment that you can buy over the counter, such as a blood glucose meter, cannot diagnose diabetes. Testing at your doctor’s office allows health care professionals to find diabetes sooner and work with you to manage diabetes and prevent complications.

After you receive your diagnosis, your primary care provider may refer you to an endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in diabetes and endocrine disorders. You will need close medical follow-up to stabilize your blood sugar levels.

Medical care and help

If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms, schedule and appointment with an Optum primary care physician by visiting our Providers page.