What is Diabetes?

Sugar (or "glucose") is necessary for the cells in your body to function correctly. Much of the food you eat is converted into sugar that then becomes your body's fuel to give you energy. Insulin helps this process by helping your body to take in glucose to turn into fuel.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body is not able to process sugar in a healthy way. Therefore, cells in your body are not able to use the sugar that is available for energy.

There are two types of diabetes: 

Type 1:
  • Sometimes called juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes occurs when the body stops making insulin. 
  • A person with type 1 diabetes must give themselves insulin every day in order to stay alive.
  • With appropriate management, people with type 1 diabetes can live normal lives.
  • Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children – but can also be diagnosed in adults.​
Type 2:​
  • Type 2 diabetes is much more common and usually appears in adults.
  • In type 2 diabetes the patient makes insulin, but it does not work as well as it should. When the insulin does not do its job (taking the sugar out of the blood to change it into fuel for the body), the level of sugar in the blood gets high, causing problems both in the short and long term.​

How is Diabetes Diagnosed?

Diabetes is diagnosed by evaluation of the level of sugar in the blood. This is a simple finger prick test that requires just a small drop of blood. The level of sugar in the blood varies over the course of the day depending on level of activity and eating. 

If there are questions about the diagnosis based on the simple finger stick test, further testing can confirm or rule out the diagnosis.

How is Diabetes Treated?

A team of health care professionals including doctors, nurses, nutritionists, pharmacists and other providers work together using the treatments below to help you take care of your diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin.  

Type 2 diabetes can be treated with:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Oral medications that help your body make better use of sugar
  • Insulin shots, if the oral medications are not enough to maintain healthy sugar levels

All types of diabetes require paying attention to the foods that you eat and keeping a healthy diet.

Contact Us

Family Medicine doctors and the teams they work with take care of Diabetes every day.​

If you or your child has diabetes, or you are concerned that you might, contact one of our family medicine locations to make an appointment.

Diabetes: Additional Resources

Learn more about diabetes using our patient education materials:

Visit our Health Library to find out more about diabetes:


Contact a Family Medicine Health Center

UPMC's Department of Family Medicine has several locations throughout the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Find a family medicine health center close to you and call us to make an appointment or find out how we can help you with your primary care needs.


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