Diabetes Health Center

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, meaning it is a disease that happens when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissues. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, which results in the pancreas then producing little or no insulin. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not known, but researchers believe that autoimmune, genetic and environmental factors are involved in the body's immune system attacks on pancreatic beta cells.

Type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, or the body's inability to use insulin effectively. When type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the pancreas is typically producing enough insulin, but the body does not absorb it properly and therefore cannot convert the glucose to energy. After several years, insulin production decreases. Glucose then builds up in the blood, in a manner similar to that of type 1 diabetes, and the body cannot make fuel or convert nutrients to energy.

Gestational diabetes is caused by an influx of hormones that often accompanies a typical pregnancy. A pregnant body may also require more insulin than the body is able to make, thereby creating an insulin shortage and causing diabetes. 

Diabetes is not a contagious condition, therefore people cannot "catch" it from each other. However, certain factors do increase one's risk of developing diabetes.

Ninety to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults are cases of type 2 diabetes. Only 5 percent of diagnosed cases are type 1, while 2 to 10 percent of cases are gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is more prevalent in whites than in nonwhites, although it does occur equally in both women and men. Type 1 diabetes is rare in most African, American Indian and Asian populations. This condition often develops in children but can occur at any age.

Type 2 diabetes is more common in older individuals, although that statistic is changing rapidly. Type 2 diabetes is often seen in overweight individuals and occurs most in African Americans, American Indians and some Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics.

Diabetes rates in the United States are likely to continue increasing for several reasons, including the fact that as a nation, America is seeing much more obesity, even in young individuals. According to recent estimates from the CDC, diabetes will affect one in three people born in 2000 in the United States. The CDC also predicts that the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in the United States will increase 165 percent by 2050.

Review Date: 
August 13, 2012
Last Updated:
September 12, 2014