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What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that affects how your body turns food into energy.
Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.
If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream, which over time can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease.
Common types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin. About 5 percent of the people who have diabetes have type 1.
Type 2 diabetes
With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and is unable to keep blood sugar at normal levels. Most people with diabetes – 9 in 10 people – have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults, though it is seen increasingly in children, teens, and young adults.
Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby could be at higher risk for health complications. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born, but increases your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. Your baby is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life too.
It's estimated that 1 in 3 people have prediabetes, and many don’t know they have it. Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Learn more about prediabetes.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes often has no symptoms, or the symptoms might go unnoticed. That is one reason why one in four people with diabetes don’t even know they have it. Ask your doctor if you should be tested for diabetes. Talk to your doctor right away if you do have symptoms of diabetes, such as:
- Urinating often
- Feeling very thirsty
- Feeling very hungry even though you are eating
- Extreme fatigue, especially after eating
- Blurry vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
More information about diabetes
Explore data on diabetes in Minnesota, including prevalence and cost.
Diabetes in Minnesota Fact Sheet (PDF) - updated February 2022.