Frequently Asked Questions

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which your body does not properly use and store glucose (a form of sugar). Glucose backs up in the bloodstream, causing your blood sugar to rise too high. There are two major types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.


What is Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, your body stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables your body to use the glucose in foods for energy. Type 1 diabetics must take daily insulin injections to survive. This form of diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, but can occur at any age.


Type 2 diabetes results when your body does not produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly. This type usually occurs in people who are over 40, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes. However, it is increasingly occurring in younger people, particularly adolescents.


How do I know if I have diabetes?

Diabetics frequently experience the following symptoms:

  • being very thirsty
  • frequent urination
  • weight loss
  • increased hunger
  • blurry vision
  • irritability
  • tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
  • wounds that don't heal
  • extreme unexplained fatigue


In some cases, there are no symptoms or symptoms come on so gradually they may not even be recognized; this happens occasionally with type 2 diabetes, where people can live for months, even years, without knowing they have the disease. 


Who gets diabetes?

Diabetes can occur in anyone. However, people who have close relatives with the disease are somewhat more likely to develop it. Other risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and age. People who are over 40 and overweight are more likely to develop diabetes. Diabetes is more common among Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. Also, people who develop diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes) are more likely to develop full-blown diabetes later in life.


How is diabetes treated?

Whether you have type 1 or type 2, you need to have a meal plan and pay attention to how much you are physically active, as physical activity can help the body use insulin better so it can convert glucose into energy. Everyone with type 1 diabetes, and some with type 2, also need to take insulin injections. Some people with type 2 diabetes take pills that help their bodies produce more insulin and/or use the insulin it is producing better. Some people with type 2 diabetes can manage their disease without medication by appropriate meal planning and adequate physical activity.


Do I need to see special doctors?

You should see a diabetes specialist at least once every six months and have annual eye exams performed by an ophthalmologist to make sure that any eye problems associated with diabetes are caught early and treated before they become serious. You should be seen periodically by other members of a diabetes treatment team, including a diabetes nurse educator, and a dietitian who will help develop a meal plan for the individual. You also can see an exercise physiologist for help in developing a physical activity plan, and, perhaps, a social worker, psychologist or other mental health professional for help with the stresses and challenges of living with a chronic disease.


Do I have to monitor my blood sugar levels?

Yes. You need to learn how to monitor your blood glucose. Daily testing helps determine how well your meal plan, activity plan, and medication are working to keep blood glucose levels in a normal range.


What other problems can diabetes cause?

Poorly managed diabetes can lead to a host of long-term complications including heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and blood vessel disease that may require an amputation, nerve damage, and impotence in men. However, research has shown that if people keep their blood glucose as close to normal as possible, they can reduce their risk of developing some of these complications by 50 percent or more.


Can diabetes be prevented?

While type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, we still do not understand it completely. Recent research does suggest that there are some things you can do to prevent this form of diabetes. Lifestyle changes may prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in those adults who are at high risk of getting the disease. Modest weight loss (five percent to ten percent of your body weight) and modest physical activity (30 minutes a day) are recommended goals.


Michael Suarez

“Without question, Joslin Diabetes Center is the best place I've ever gone to.”

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