About Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease of metabolism, which is the way your body uses food for energy and growth.1 In particular, it's related to one of the food nutrients that supply energy, called carbohydrates.2 Normally, your stomach and intestines digest the carbohydrates in your food into a sugar called glucose. Glucose is your body's main source of energy. After digestion, the glucose moves into your blood to give your body energy.

To get the glucose out of your blood and into the cells of your body, your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin. If you have diabetes, either your body doesn't make enough insulin, or your cells can't use it the way they should. Instead, the glucose builds up in your blood, causing diabetes, otherwise known as high blood sugar.

Diabetes is generally divided into three categories:

  • Type 1—Also known as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas does not make enough insulin.3
  • Type 2—This develops when the body becomes resistant insulin, and as a result the pancreas can no longer make enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels in balance.3 It used to be known as adult-onset diabetes, because it was seen mainly in adults, especially older ones (age 40 and up)4. Today, many obese children are developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes—Also known as gestational diabetes mellitus, this is a type of diabetes that only occurs in pregnant women. If a pregnant woman develops diabetes, but she didn't have it before becoming pregnant, then she has gestational diabetes.

For information about the number of people affected by or at risk for diabetes, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.


  1. NICHD (2006, September). Managing gestational diabetes: a patient's guide to a healthy pregnancy. Retrieved May 12, 2012 from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/Documents/managing_gestational_diabetes.pdf#page=6 (PDF 12.7 MB)
  2. Kidshealth.org (2010, August). Carbohydrates and diabetes. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://kidshealth.org/teen/diabetes_center/nutrition/carbs_diabetes.html external link
  3. National Diabetes Education Program (n.d.). Learn about type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from http://ndep.nih.gov/i-have-diabetes/LearnAboutDiabetes.aspx
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012, April). Children and Diabetes. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/risk-factors
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