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Student Health Services


What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.

Approximately 17 million people in the United States, or 6.2% of the population, have diabetes. While an estimated 11.1 million have been diagnosed, unfortunately 5.9 million people (or one-third) are unaware that they have the disease.

There are three major types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes - Results from the body's failure to produce insulin, the hormone that "unlocks" the cells of the body, allowing glucose to enter and fuel them. It is estimated that 5-10% of Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes - Results from insulin resistance (a condition in which the body fails to make enough or properly use insulin), combined with relative insulin deficiency. Approximately 90-95% (16 million) have type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes - Gestational diabetes affects about 4% of all pregnant women - about 135,000 cases in the United States each year.

What Does it Mean to be "Borderline Pre-Diabetic?"

Some people are classified as "pre" or "borderline" based on their blood tests or past history. Diabetes is inherited and sometimes people do not begin to show any symptoms until a period of stress or sickness. Prior to a lack of insulin production, your pancreas may produce too much insulin causing periods of low blood sugar. This stage doctors often call "borderline" or "pre" diabetic.

What is Insulin?

Inside the pancreas, beta cells make the hormone insulin. With each meal, beta cells release insulin to help the body use or store the blood sugar (glucose) it gets from food.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin. The beta cells have been destroyed. They need insulin shots to use glucose from meals.

People with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but their bodies don't respond well to it. Some people with type 2 diabetes need diabetes pills or insulin shots to help their bodies use glucose for energy.

Insulin cannot be taken as a pill. It would be broken down during digestion just like the protein in food. Insulin must be injected into the fat under your skin for it to get into your blood.

Some of the Symptoms of Diabetes Include:

  • frequent urination
  • unusual thirst
  • changes in appetite
  • unexplained weight loss
  • extreme fatigue
  • irritability
  • blurry vision
  • tingling in hands or feet

In Type I diabetes, the symptoms progress quickly and are dramatic. In Type 2 diabetes, since symptoms are slower to progress, it is possible to have no apparent symptoms and be diagnosed on a non related medical examination.


People with diabetes have the same nutritional needs as anyone else. Along with exercise and medications (insulin or oral diabetes pills), nutrition is important for good diabetes control. By eating well-balanced meals in the correct amounts, you can keep your blood glucose level as close to normal (non-diabetes level) as possible.


The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Exercise works the same way. Taking that first step can be hard, especially if you've been diagnosed with diabetes. Remember - it's never to late. You can always improve your level of fitness.

Healthy Weight

If you are overweight, evaluating what and how much you eat is the first step to making changes that promote a healthy weight. Obesity increases insulin resistance and contributes to many health problems, including heart and blood vessel disease.


Stress results when something causes your body to behave as if it were under attack. Sources of stress can be physical or mental. When stress occurs, the body responds by making stored energy - glucose and fat - available to cells. In people with diabetes, the response does not work well as insulin is not always able to let the extra energy into the cells. For help with stress reduction see Managing Stress: A Guide for College Students.

For more information about diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.