The Basics: Overview

Diabetes is a leading cause of disability and death in the United States. Diabetes also increases the risk of serious health problems like:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Blindness
  • Nerve damage, which can lead to amputation (removal by surgery) of a toe, foot, or leg
  • Kidney failure

The good news is that you can do a lot to prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Reaching and staying at a healthy weight
  • Staying active
  • Eating healthy
  • Quitting smoking

The Basics: Types of Diabetes

What is diabetes?

Having diabetes means the glucose (sugar) levels in your blood are too high. Your body depends on glucose for energy. When you eat, most of the food turns into glucose. Your blood carries the glucose to other parts of your body.

When you have diabetes, your body has trouble turning glucose into energy. Instead of being used by your body, glucose builds up in your blood. Over time, high blood glucose can damage almost every part of your body.

Diabetes is a chronic (long-term) condition.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. You’re more likely to get type 2 diabetes if you’re overweight or have obesity, don’t get enough physical activity, or have prediabetes.

Having prediabetes means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for you to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. 

What other types of diabetes are there?
  • Type 1 diabetes seems to be caused by a problem with the immune system (the system in your body that fights infection). Right now, there’s no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that some people develop during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of health problems for you and your baby. For example, gestational diabetes can make it more likely that you or your baby will develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Learn more about gestational diabetes.

The Basics: Am I at Risk?

Am I at risk for type 2 diabetes?

Many things can put you at risk for type 2 diabetes. For example, you may be at risk if you:

  • Have prediabetes
  • Are older than 45 years
  • Are overweight or have obesity
  • Have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
  • Are African American, Alaska Native, Native American, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander
  • Have high blood pressure or high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • Are physically active less than 3 times a week

You’re also at higher risk for type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) 
  • Have given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Have polycystic ovary syndrome (a health condition where the ovaries make more male hormones than normal)

Learn more about the risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

What is prediabetes?

If you have prediabetes, the glucose levels in your blood are higher than normal — but not high enough to mean you have type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, like heart disease and stroke.

The good news about prediabetes is that healthy life changes, like losing weight and getting enough physical activity, can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Find out more about prediabetes.

The Basics: Symptoms

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes often develop over several years. Many people with type 2 diabetes have symptoms for a long time without noticing them. Some people may never notice any symptoms.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Being very thirsty or hungry
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Urinating (peeing) more than usual
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Having cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Having blurry vision
  • Feeling numb or tingly in your hands or feet

Because symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be hard to spot, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you have risk factors or notice any symptoms, ask your doctor about getting tested.

Learn more about diabetes symptoms.

Take Action: Talk to Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor about your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Use this tool to find out if you’re at risk for prediabetes, which makes it more likely that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes. Print out the results and take them to your next checkup.

Find out if you need to get tested for diabetes.

If you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes, ask your doctor about getting tested. People ages 35 to 70 years who are overweight need to get tested for diabetes. Your doctor can tell you how often to get tested.

Your doctor may also recommend that you get tested if you’re younger than 35 years and at risk for other reasons, like having high blood pressure or having a family member with type 2 diabetes.

Keep in mind that the test for diabetes can also show if you have prediabetes. Learn more about getting tested for diabetes and prediabetes.

Take Action: Cost and Insurance

What about cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover:

  • Diabetes screening for adults ages 35 to 70 years who are overweight or have obesity
  • Diet counseling for adults at higher risk for chronic disease

Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more. 

If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost diabetes screening. Find a health center near you and ask about getting tested for diabetes.

To learn more, check out these resources:

Take Action: Food and Physical Activity

Eat healthy.

Eating healthy can help you control your weight — and help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. If you have any type of diabetes, eating healthy can also help manage your condition. Learn more about healthy eating.

Choose foods that are low in saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium (salt). Try these healthy recipes.

If you need help eating healthy, your doctor may also refer you to a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian is a health professional who helps people with healthy eating.

Get active.

Getting active can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also help you manage any type of diabetes. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like walking fast or biking.

If you have a health condition or disability, try these tips for staying active. Your doctor can help you choose the best activities for you.

Take Action: Healthy Weight

Aim for a healthy weight.

If you’re overweight or have obesity, losing weight can help lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. Eating healthy and getting active are great ways to help you lose weight.

Try following these tips:

  • Set small, realistic goals — like walking for 10 minutes each day
  • Keep a food and activity diary — write down what and how much you eat each day, as well as how many minutes of physical activity you get
  • Eat smaller portions — and choose water instead of sugar-sweetened drinks

Learn more about reaching a healthy weight. You can also create your own weight loss game plan to help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Take Action: Know Your Numbers

Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. 

  • Starting at age 18 years, get your blood pressure checked every 3 to 5 years. If you’re older than 40 years or if you’re at increased risk for high blood pressure, get your blood pressure checked once a year. You can also buy a blood pressure monitor to check your blood pressure at home. Learn more about getting your blood pressure checked.
  • It’s important to get your cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Some people will need to get it checked more or less often. If your cholesterol is high, talk with your doctor about steps you can take to lower it. Learn more about getting your cholesterol checked.

Take Action: Quit Smoking

If you smoke, take steps to quit.

Quitting smoking is hard, but millions of people have done it successfully. In fact, more than half of Americans who ever smoked have quit. You could be one of them!

Take these steps to help you quit:

Get more tips to help you quit smoking.