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.

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.

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 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.

The risk of developing Type 1 diabetes within the general population is approximately 1 in 300. Certain autoantibodies may increase risk of disease development. Although Type 1 diabetes may develop at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.

If you have a family member with Type 1 diabetes, your risk of developing the condition is approximately 1 in 20. However, diabetes develops from both genetic and environmental factors, and the mechanisms of development are not fully understood. It is best to ensure regular health screenings and inform your physician of family medical history related to diseases such as 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.

Type 1 diabetes progresses in three stages. In the first stage of Type 1 diabetes, a person has normal blood sugar and lots of beta cells. While they show no symptoms, people in this stage already possess two or more autoantibodies that indicate that the pancreas is under an early autoimmune attack . During the second stage of Type 1 diabetes, beta cells are damaged or destroyed, which results in abnormal blood sugar levels. People in this stage exhibit very few symptoms. In the final stage, a small number of beta cells remain and blood sugar rises to dangerously high levels. A clinical diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes occurs in stage 3.

Currently, there are no approved treatments for the prevention of Type 1 diabetes.

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.

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