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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way the body turns glucose — a form of sugar — into energy. Our bodies use glucose for fuel.

Normally, the body releases a hormone called insulin when glucose is in the blood stream. Insulin takes the glucose (sugar) into the cells where it is either used as energy or stored.

Opens map and address list of all UPMC diabetes centers

Opens list of UPMC endocrinology doctors and experts​​​

In someone with diabetes, the body either doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use the insulin properly and too much glucose remains in the blood. Over time, high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) can cause more serious problems.

Types of Diabetes

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

Type Who's at Risk How it Happens
Type 1 Diabetes More common in children and young adults. However, it can occur at any age. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin. Glucose is unable to get into the cells, so the glucose level in the blood goes up. When the glucose level rises above normal, a person has high blood glucose, or hyperglycemia.
Type 2 Diabetes See risk factors for type 2 diabetes, below. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin, but the insulin doesn't work right, or the cells can't take in the glucose. The glucose level in the blood goes up. A person then has high blood glucose, or hyperglycemia.
Gestational Diabetes Women who are pregnant. Because of the hormonal changes in pregnancy, sometimes the pancreas does not make enough insulin. After pregnancy, gestational diabetes often goes away; however, some women may get diabetes in the future. Have your blood glucose checked often if you had gestational diabetes in the past.

Type 2 Diabetes Risks and Symptoms

Risk factors increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

People who tend to get type 2 diabetes:

  • Have a history of type 2 diabetes in their family.
  • Are over age 45.
  • Are members of minority groups, including African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American.
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have high blood pressure.
  • Have high cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Are not physically active.
  • Have a history of gestational diabetes.
  • Gave birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

A person with type 2 diabetes may have some or none of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Passing water (urinating) often
  • Blurred vision
  • Extreme tiredness for no reason
  • Weight loss
  • Cuts or sores that don't heal well