The Basics: Overview
Diabetes is a leading cause of disability and death in the United States. Diabetes increases the risk of serious health problems like:
- Heart disease
- Nerve damage, which can cause you to lose 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:
- Watching your weight
- Eating healthy
- Staying active
The Basics: Types of Diabetes
What is diabetes?
Having diabetes means 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 and your body is starved of energy. 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 and inactive – or if you have prediabetes.
Having prediabetes means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not 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 that helps fight infection). Right now, there’s no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that some women 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 over age 45
- 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
Some risk factors only affect women. You're also at 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 (when your body produces more male hormones than normal)
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 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 for no reason
- 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.
Take Action: Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to a doctor about your risk for type 2 diabetes.
Use this tool to find out if you are 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.
- Ask your doctor or nurse how to prevent type 2 diabetes.
- Ask about diabetes prevention programs near you.
- If you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, talk to your doctor or midwife about gestational diabetes.
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 who are overweight need to get tested for diabetes. Your doctor can tell you how often to get tested.
Your doctor may also recommend you get tested if you're younger than age 35 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 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 provider to find out what’s included in your plan.
For information about preventive services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
Take Action: Food and Physical Activity
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 dietician. A registered dietician is a health professional who helps people with healthy eating.
Getting active can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also help you manage any type of diabetes. Aim for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like walking fast or biking.
- Learn more about how to get active.
- Build a weekly physical activity plan.
- Try this simple walking program.
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
Watch your weight.
If you're at risk for type 2 diabetes, losing weight can help lower your risk.
To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. You can use a notebook, journal, or smartphone to keep a record of:
- Your weight
- All the meals and snacks you eat each day
- The number of calories and grams of fat in your food
- How many minutes of physical activity you do each day
Take Action: Know Your Numbers
Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked.
- Starting at age 18, get your blood pressure checked every 3 to 5 years. If you're over age 40 or if you're at increased risk for high blood pressure, get your blood pressure checked once a year. Learn more about getting your blood pressure checked.
It’s important to get your cholesterol checked at least 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.
Content last updated September 2, 2021
This content on preventing diabetes was adapted from materials from the National Diabetes Education Program and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Stephanie C. Creel, MA
Associate Director for Communications Science
Division of Diabetes Translation
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion