Diabetes 101: Factors, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

There are roughly 30 million Americans living with diabetes. This month, educate yourself and your loved ones on known risk factors, symptoms, and how to lessen your chances of developing the disease.

More than 30 million Americans are currently living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, which is just under 10% of the U.S. population, so chances are good you know someone who’s affected. November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, and with diabetes rates so high, it’s more important than ever to learn more about this disease.

Keep reading for information about diabetes risk factors and symptoms, as well as ways to lessen your chances of developing the condition.

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: The Basics

Type 1 and 2 diabetes both affect the body’s use of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to turn glucose (sugar) into energy and store it for later. Think of insulin as the “key” that unlocks your cells for glucose, allowing the cells to take in and process sugar.

Despite the similarities, type 1 and type 2 diabetes have important differences. People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, so they need to give themselves insulin injections several times a day to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, which means their bodies still produce insulin, but they’re unable to use it efficiently.

Type 1 diabetes isn’t preventable — it’s a chronic illness in which the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Most medical experts believe genetics and environmental factors play a role in determining who will develop type 1 diabetes, but as with many autoimmune conditions, the exact causes aren’t fully understood. Most people with type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in their youth or childhood, but it’s possible to develop the condition at any point in life.

The more common type of diabetes, type 2, is preventable, although researchers are still trying to figure out why some people develop insulin resistance and others don’t. However, experts generally agree that risk factors include excess weight, sedentary lifestyle, high blood sugar levels, and a family history of type 2 diabetes. Certain minority groups, including people of African, Latino, and Native American descent, tend to develop type 2 diabetes at especially high rates, meaning these groups need to be especially conscious of lifestyle-related risk factors. Type 2 diabetes makes up about 95% of all diabetes cases, which means the vast majority of diabetes cases are preventable.

Understand the Symptoms of Diabetes

Despite the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, both conditions lead to similar symptoms. In the short term, the effects of both types of diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Hunger and weight loss while maintaining normal food intake
  • Fatigue
  • Skin problems
  • Wounds that heal slowly
  • Tingling or numbness in the feet or toes

Left unaddressed, diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, and an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. And complications from unnoticed, slow-to-heal wounds can eventually require amputation of digits or limbs.

Reduce Your Chances of Developing Type 2 Diabetes With These Steps

Fortunately, you can take measures to prevent type 2 diabetes or manage the condition if you already have it. You can reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes or even reverse existing type 2 diabetes by:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced diet that’s low in sugary and processed foods
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption

Some people who have type 2 diabetes can manage their condition with diet and exercise alone, but others may need insulin therapy or medication. Only your doctor can tell you which diabetes treatments are right for you.

These tips are just a starting point. Consult your doctor about developing a diabetes-specific eating plan that addresses your unique needs and circumstances. There’s no better time to take the first step toward a healthy lifestyle than during November, which is American Diabetes Awareness Month!

If You Have Diabetes, You Have Options

Open communication with your doctor or a diabetes specialist can make a big difference for individuals living with diabetes. From creating strategies for symptom management to finding additional resources, experienced health professionals are there to support you in your health journey.

The Canopy Health network includes diabetes specialists (like the clinicians at the John Muir Health Diabetes Center and the Diabetes Center at UCSF) who help patients manage their conditions so they can live healthy, fulfilled lives. Connect with us today to learn how a Canopy Health diabetes specialist can support you or someone you know who’s living with diabetes.


Diabetes. (2018, August 08). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371444

How to avoid amputations if you have diabetes. (2016, February 29). Health.com. Retrieved from https://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20189334,00.html

Living with type 1 diabetes. (2018, August 31). American Diabetes Association. Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/recently-diagnosed/living-with-type-1-diabetes.html

O’Keefe Osborn, C. (2017, August 24). Type 1 and type 2 diabetes: What’s the difference? Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/difference-between-type-1-and-type-2-diabetes#symptoms