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Diabetes or High Blood Sugar

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to control the blood sugar.  It occurs when the pancreas, the organ that is responsible for maintaining blood sugar levels, begins to malfunction or is challenged with too much fat and sugar to maintain normal sugar or glucose blood levels.  The pancreas, which sits just underneath and slightly behind the stomach, produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin is released when we eat and its job is to help the digested sugars from our food get to our cells to feed them.

There are two types of diabetes, known as Type 1 and Type 2.

  • Type 1 diabetes: Usually begins when you are young, and is autoimmune, (when the body reacts adversely to itself) where there is very little insulin production. This means that the body’s cells can starve because there are no keys to allow digested food sugars in to feed them.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Usually begins later in life, and is preventable, where too much sugar and fat make it difficult to maintain normal sugar levels in the blood and the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin that is produced does not work properly, and the sugars are not able to get into some of the cells, leaving high sugars in the bloodstream.

About 215,000 people younger than 20 years had diabetes (type 1 or type 2) in the United States in 2010.  There are 25.6 million people aged 20 years or over who have been diagnosed with diabetes.1

  • African American adults are twice as likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes.2
  • Mexican American adults are 1.9 times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes.

What are the symptoms of Diabetes?

Most common symptoms of these two types of diabetes are:

  • Fatigue (Tiredness)
  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Excessive thirst, excessive urination, and excessive eating
  • Blurred vision

What blood sugar levels are healthy?

Healthy blood sugar levels are listed below in the Normal group, under fasting (no food or drinks for 8 hours or more) or two hours after a meal.

Groups Fasting Two Hours After Eating

Groups Fasting Two Hours After Eating
Normal 99 mg/dl or below 139 mg/dl and below
Impaired 100-125 mg/dl 140-199 mg/dl
Diabetes 126 mg/dl or above 200 mg/dl and above


To check your blood sugars, you must monitor the timing before or after your meals.  The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases classified the following blood sugar levels before and after intake of an oral glucose tolerance test.3

What health problems can Diabetes lead to?

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
  • Blindness
  • Amputations
  • Dental diseases (example: Gum infections)


How can Diabetes be prevented?

√ Follow a Healthy Eating Plan

  • Eat healthy foodssuch as fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, chicken or turkey without the skin, dry peas or beans, whole grains, and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.
    • Choose fresh or frozen food, instead of canned foods to keep your salt intake low as well.
  • Keep fish and lean meat and poultry portions to about 3 ounces (or the size of a deck of cards). Bake, broil, or grill it.
  • Eat foods that have less fat and salt.
  • Eat foods with less sugar. Try unsweetened drinks, such as unsweetened iced tea, or reduced calorie drinks.
  • Eat foods with more fiber such as whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, or brown rice.

√  Do More Physical Activity

  • Regular physical activity can lower blood sugar and reduce your risk for other health problems.  Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, try to get at least 30 to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most or all days of the week.

  • Regular physical activity, such as walking briskly for 30 minutes, five times a week.
  • You can do your exercise all at once or break it up into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. Moderate-intensity activities include fast walking, dancing, riding a bike, and cleaning the house.
  • You also may want to do more intense activities, such as jogging, swimming, and playing sports. If you’re overweight or obese, try to reduce your weight by 7 to 10 percent during your first year of treatment. This amount of weight loss can lower your risk for health problems related to diabetes and hypertension.

√  Quit Smoking

  • Smoking can harm your blood vessels and raise your risk for diabetes and other health problems.
  • If you smoke or use tobacco, quit.  Also, take steps to protect yourself from second-hand smoke. 
    • Ask for help to quit. Call 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669).

 Is there treatment for Diabetes?

Diet, insulin, and oral medication to lower blood sugar levels are the foundation of diabetes treatment and management.  Patient education and self-care practices are also important aspects of disease management that help people with diabetes lead normal lives.

Talk to your health care team about how to manage your A1C, Blood pressure, and Cholesterol. This can help lower your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or other diabetes problems. Here’s what the ABCs of diabetes stand for:

√  A for the A1C test (A-one-C)

  • It shows what your blood sugar levels have been over the last three months. The A1C goal for many people is below 7.

√  B for Blood pressure (BP)

√  C for Cholesterol

  • LDL or “bad” cholesterol can build up and clog your blood vessels. It can cause a heart attack or a stroke.
  • The LDL cholesterol goal for people with diabetes is below 100.
  • HDL or “good” cholesterol helps remove cholesterol from your blood vessels.
  • The HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) goal for men with diabetes is above 40, while for women with diabetes it is about 50 and above.


To help control other complications due to diabetes:

√ Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, red spots, and swelling. Call your health care team right away about any sores that do not go away.

√ Brush your teeth and floss every day to avoid problems with your mouth, teeth, or gums.

√  Follow-up with a yearly eye exam, and report any changes in your eyesight to your health care team.

The good news: Simple lifestyle changes (such as diet and exercise) with medications and monitoring can help those with diabetes live a long and active life! 

For more information on Diabetes, please visit:

American Diabetes Association:


National Diabetes Education Program, a joint program of NIH and CDC:


  1. Citation: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes fact sheet: national estimates and general information on diabetes and prediabetes in the United States, 2011. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.


  1. Offices of Minority Health


  1. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). NIH Publication No. 09-4642.  Page last updated: December 5, 2011.