Home Diabetes Basics Overview What is Diabetes?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism—the way our bodies use digested food for growth and energy. Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose, the form of sugar in the blood. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body.


After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream, where it is used by cells for growth and energy. For glucose to get into cells, insulin must be present. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach.

When we eat, the pancreas automatically produces the right amount of insulin to move glucose from blood into our cells. In people with diabetes, however, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced. Glucose builds up in the blood, overflows into the urine, and passes out of the body. Thus, the body loses its main source of fuel even though the blood contains large amounts of glucose.

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and for heart disease and stroke. The good news is if you have pre-diabetes, you can reduce your risk of getting diabetes. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes and even return to normal glucose levels.

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body does not make insulin. Type 1 diabetes accounts for five to ten percent of all cases of diabetes. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and last for the person's whole life. People with type 1 diabetes take insulin daily. They also need to keep their blood sugar in a target range by balancing insulin with a meal plan and exercise.

Type 1.5 diabetes is one of several names now applied to those who are diagnosed with diabetes as adults, but who do not immediately require insulin for treatment, are often not overweight, and have little or no resistance to insulin. When special lab tests are done, they are found to have antibodies, especially GAD65 antibodies, that attack their beta cells. This sort of diabetes is sometimes called Slow Onset Type 1 or Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA). Type 1.5 diabetes is also referred to as Type 3 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases of diabetes and most often occurs in middle-aged or older adults. People with type 2 diabetes manage their diabetes by using a meal plan, being active and taking diabetes medicines, if needed. Working with their healthcare team, all people with diabetes can develop a treatment plan that works for them.