Diabetes, a chronic condition that results in high blood sugar levels, is on the rise in America. According to the latest National Diabetes Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • 29 million people aged 20 and older in the US have diabetes. 1 in 4 don’t know they have it.
  • 86 million people aged 20 and older in the US have prediabetes. That’s 1 in every 3 people and 90% don’t know they have it.

Diabetes in the United States from the CDC

“The number of people affected by diabetes and prediabetes has increased across all age groups and ethnicities,” explains Edward Gregg, PhD, Chief of the Epidemiology and Statistics Branch, Division of Diabetes Translation, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Diabetes is everyone’s disease.”

“Now is the time to take action,” warns Ann Albright, PhD, RD, Director, Division of Diabetes Translation, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “If these numbers continue to rise, 1 in 5 people could have diabetes by the year 2025, and it could be 1 in 3 people by the year 2050. We simply can’t sustain this trajectory – the implications are far too great – for our families, our health care system, our workforce, our nation.”

The first step to solving any complex problem is to fully understand the issue, so let’s start with the basics.

Type 1 Diabetes Must Be Treated with Insulin

The type 1 form of diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Dr. Jennifer Holst, endocrinologist and Associate Medical Director of the Joslin Diabetes Center affiliates at Allegheny Health Network, describes it to her patients this way:

“Type 1 generally occurs in children, and is a problem caused by the pancreas not making insulin. It requires insulin injections for management of glucose (blood sugar).”

With little or no insulin, glucose remains in the blood rather than being delivered to the body’s cells to be used for energy. To survive, people with type 1 diabetes need to use a pump or injection to add insulin to their systems.

Type 1 diabetes is the far less common form of the condition, accounting for about 5% of all diagnosed cases. Symptoms include increased thirst, feeling tired all the time, blurry eyesight, numbness or tingling in the feet, weight loss and frequent urination.

Type 2 Diabetes Is Linked to Genetics and Extra Weight

“Type 2 diabetes generally starts in adults, and occurs more commonly in people who have a strong family history of diabetes and/or are overweight,” Dr. Holst explains. “Sometimes oral medications (pills) can be used to control glucose, and sometimes people with type 2 diabetes require insulin injections.”

This form of diabetes usually begins when cells in the muscles, liver and fat tissue stop using insulin properly. This increases the body’s need for insulin and, eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand.

In adults, type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% to 95% of all cases of the condition. Most people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms at all. Those who do notice symptoms often report needing to urinate often, feeling thirsty and blurred vision.

Prediabetes

People with prediabetes have blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not yet to the level that would indicate diabetes. A fasting blood glucose level of 100 mg/dl is the threshold for prediabetes. If you’re familiar with “borderline diabetes,” that’s the same condition. Prediabetes increases your risk for developing not only type 2 diabetes, but also heart disease and stroke.

“Unfortunately, there are no symptoms of prediabetes,” says Dr. Holst. “But modest weight loss and an increase in physical activity can help you avoid prediabetes, or even reverse it. A healthier lifestyle also decreases your risk for diabetes and other serious conditions.”

The CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program teaches participants how to adjust their lifestyles and cut the risk of type 2 diabetes in half. You can find a certified program in your area using the Diabetes Prevention Recognition Program registry.