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Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is chronic condition that occurs when a person's body cannot regulate the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The blood sugar level remains higher than normal, because the body either:

  • Produces little or no insulin.
  • Is resistant to the insulin it produces.

Insulin is a natural hormone made by the pancreas, which is a digestive gland located behind the stomach.

A metabolic disorder

When people eat or drink, the glucose in the food is released into the bloodstream. Glucose is a type of sugar that the body uses as fuel. Insulin enables the glucose in the blood to be absorbed by the body's cells, which then convert the glucose into energy.

As the cells absorb the glucose in the blood, a person's blood glucose level starts dropping. Without insulin, blood glucose levels remain high, and eventually damage many of the body's organs and systems.

The three types of diabetes

The three major types of diabetes are:

  • Type 1
    Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes) typically develops in children, adolescents, and young adults. People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin.
  • Type 2
    Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes) typically develops in people older than 40, although type 2 diabetes is now on the rise in children and young adults. People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but their bodies become resistant to the insulin produced.
  • Gestational diabetes
    Gestational diabetes only occurs during pregnancy. Undiagnosed cases of gestational diabetes may create problems for the mother and the baby. Although gestational diabetes usually disappears after delivery, women who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately:

  • 20.8 million Americans have diabetes.
  • 6.2 million Americans do not know they have the disease.
  • 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 2 diabetes.
  • 5% to 10% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 1 diabetes.
  • 2% to 5% of all pregnant women develop gestational diabetes.

In addition, an estimated 54 million people in the United States aged 20 years or older have pre-diabetes and are at high risk of developing diabetes. Their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.