Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research


Frequently asked questions

Answers to common questions about diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a disorder that results in excessively high levels of blood glucose, commonly referred to as blood sugar. Diabetes is caused by the body’s lack of insulin production or the body’s inability to efficiently use the insulin that it is producing.

In short, insulin is a hormone that allows the body to regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is produced by important cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. When the blood sugar increases after a meal, the beta cells are stimulated to secrete insulin. Insulin allows other cells in the body to absorb the glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. Beta cells are the body’s only source of insulin production.

Diabetes can contribute to a number of other serious health complications. People with diabetes have an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage. They also have a higher risk of eye problems, foot problems and stroke. In addition, some treatments for diabetes are associated with a risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the immune system attacks and kills the insulin-secreting beta cells that live in the pancreas. Between 5-10 percent of diabetes cases in the United States are Type 1. Although Type 1 diabetes can manifest at any age, it is commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.

Type 2 diabetes makes up about 90 percent of diabetes cases in the United States. Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance, a condition that prevents the body from using insulin properly. Over time, Type 2 diabetes develops because beta cells lose the ability to make and secrete insulin and the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels.

People with prediabetes have elevated blood glucose levels that are outside of the normal range, but the levels are not high enough to be considered diabetic. Prediabetes is very common, and many people with the condition do not experience noticeable symptoms. However, if ignored, prediabetes can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

If you have diabetes, your children may have a higher risk of also developing the disease. However, diabetes develops from both genetic and environmental factors, and the mechanisms of development are not fully understood. The best thing to do is ensure regular health screenings and inform your health care provider of your family’s history with any known diseases such as diabetes.

Possible signs and symptoms of diabetes include weight loss, frequent urination, blurred vision, excessive thirst and fatigue. In some people, the symptoms may be very mild.  This is why it’s very important to have regular check-ups and lab tests to make sure your glucose level is normal.

There are a number of therapies and devices that are used to treat and monitor diabetes. People with Type 1 diabetes—and some with Type 2—require daily insulin injections. Others may manage their disease with oral therapies and a healthy lifestyle. In all cases, it is important to monitor blood glucose levels daily.

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition.  In some individuals, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with lifestyle changes.