What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose (or sugar) levels are too high. When we eat food, most of it is turned into glucose which our bodies use for energy. Just like a car uses gasoline for energy, our bodies use glucose. In order for our bodies to use glucose for energy the pancreas must release a hormone called insulin. Insulin allows glucose to move into our cells and be used. With diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and/or the insulin being produced is not being used by the body properly. In either case the end result is high blood sugar or diabetes.


Individuals with Type 1diabetes have a pancreas that does not produce any insulin, so they must take insulin injections every day.


In Type 2 diabetes the pancreas may not be producing enough insulin and/or the insulin being produced is not working with the cells of the body properly. Another issue with Type 2 diabetes is that the liver may be releasing too much sugar into the blood stream. People with Type 2 diabetes might take no medication, oral medications, or insulin as part of their diabetes management.

Is Type 1 diabetes more serious than Type 2?

No, all forms of diabetes are serious. Diabetes can lead to serious complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and amputations. However, if diabetes is controlled, complications can be reduced or avoided.

How can diabetes be controlled?

There are 7 self-care behaviors for good diabetes management:

  • Healthy eating
  • Being active
  • Monitoring/self-testing
  • Taking medications
  • Problem solving
  • Reducing risks
  • Healthy coping

The Diabetes Association of Atlanta offers Diabetes Self Management Education classes that cover the 7 self-care behaviors for diabetes management and much more!

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes develops only during pregnancy, usually after the 24th week. It is tested using an oral glucose tolerance test around 24 – 28 weeks of pregnancy, but some may be tested earlier. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the delivery, but according to the National Diabetes Education Program, women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35 to 60 percent chance of developing Type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years. Additionally, children born to mothers with gestational diabetes may have an increased risk for conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

I was told I have borderline diabetes by a doctor a few years ago, what does that mean?

You should follow up with your doctor and get a copy of your labs, but typically borderline diabetes is another term for prediabetes, which is a condition that puts someone at risk for type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test. Here are the most common ones:

1. A fasting blood glucose or sugar test measures the sugar in your blood when you have not had anything to eat or drink in the last 8 hours.

Condition    Fasting Results (mg/dl)
Normal Below 100
Pre-diabetes 100-125
Diabetes 126 or above


2. A non-fasting test can be done when you have had food or drink recently.

Condition    Non-Fasting Results (mg/dl)
Normal Below 140
Pre-diabetes 140-199
Diabetes 200 or above


3. A blood test to measure your average blood sugar over the past three months called the hemoglobin A1c test can also be used to diagnose diabetes.

Condition    A1c Results
Normal 5.6% or lower
Pre-diabetes 5.7%  – 6.4%
Diabetes 6.5% or higher

If it has been several years since you last had your blood sugar checked, you should visit your doctor and have it checked again. This measurement should be checked annually at your physical.

Does pre-diabetes always develop into Type 2 diabetes?

No, diabetes can be prevented or delayed by making healthy lifestyle changes including:

  • Weight loss, if you are overweight
  • Improving nutrition
  • Increasing physical activity

Are more people being diagnosed with diabetes now than in the past?

Yes, and there are several possible reasons. First, the threshold for diagnosing diabetes was lowered in 1997 by the American Diabetes Association. This was done because research showed that having an even slightly elevated blood sugar can cause damage to both small and large blood vessels. Second, our lifestyles have changed dramatically over the past twenty to thirty years. We are eating larger portions and more processed foods. Also, many Americans do very little physical activity. As a result, there are more overweight and obese people. Being overweight/obese is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

Should people with diabetes avoid carbohydrates?

No, people with diabetes should not avoid carbohydrates. Foods containing carbohydrates including starches, fruits, milk and yogurt are part of a healthy meal plan for people with diabetes. These types of foods provide the body with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Portion control with foods containing carbohydrates is important for people with diabetes because if eaten in large amounts, they can raise the blood sugar above target ranges.

For several years I was able to manage my type 2 diabetes with a healthy meal plan and regular exercise; now my doctor says I need to take oral medications. What did I do wrong?

Nothing. Diabetes is a progressive disease. That means over time your pancreas may produce less insulin or the insulin being produced may not work as well with the cells of the body. This would require a change in your treatment plan.

I’ve had diabetes for 5 years. When I check my blood sugar it is always in the normal range. Do I really need to check everyday? And do I still have diabetes?

Sounds like you are doing a great job managing your diabetes. I would discuss your blood sugar monitoring plan with your doctor and certified diabetes educator. Monitoring blood sugar is an important view into how our body is doing with diabetes. It might be a good idea to check blood sugar at different times of the day, such as before breakfast one day, 2 hours after lunch another day, and before bedtime another day. Checking at different times will give you a more comprehensive look into what is going on inside your body at different times throughout the day. Checking blood sugar can help your doctor see if your present treatment program is working for you. Your doctor may use your blood sugar readings to make any changes in your treatment program. Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about different times to test.
Yes, you still have diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disease, meaning it is there for life. However, diabetes is very manageable and it can be very well controlled! YOU are in control of your diabetes.

Does exercise help control blood sugar?

Regular physical activity can help to control blood sugar levels. It is recommended that you exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If 30 minutes at a time is not feasible, remember that you can split your activity into 10 minute segments and it still has heart health benefits! Here are some ways to begin increasing your physical activity:

  • Take a daily walk. Start slow and increase by 1-2 minutes each time.
  • Walk during part of your lunch break.
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.
  • Park at the back of the parking lot and walk to the building or store.
  • Walk or bike instead of driving when you can.
  • Get a pedometer at your local pharmacy or sports store. Set a goal to reach 10,000 steps a day.
  • Get your whole family involved.

Exercise is not only helpful in lowering blood sugar, it has numerous health benefits including:

  • Increased strength and endurance
  • Build healthy bones and muscles
  • Help with weight control
  • Prevent heart and circulation problems