Fact sheet N°312
January 2011


Diabetes



Key facts


What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many of the body's systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset) is characterized by deficient insulin production and requires daily administration of insulin. The cause of type 1 diabetes is not known and it is not preventable with current knowledge.

Symptoms include excessive excretion of urine (polyuria), thirst (polydipsia), constant hunger, weight loss, vision changes and fatigue. These symptoms may occur suddenly.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset) results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. Type 2 diabetes comprises 90% of people with diabetes around the world, and is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.

Symptoms may be similar to those of Type 1 diabetes, but are often less marked. As a result, the disease may be diagnosed several years after onset, once complications have already arisen.

Until recently, this type of diabetes was seen only in adults but it is now also occurring in children.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is hyperglycaemia with onset or first recognition during pregnancy.

Symptoms of gestational diabetes are similar to Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is most often diagnosed through prenatal screening, rather than reported symptoms.

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) are intermediate conditions in the transition between normality and diabetes. People with IGT or IFG are at high risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes, although this is not inevitable.

What are common consequences of diabetes?

Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

What is the economic impact of diabetes?

Diabetes and its complications have a significant economic impact on individuals, families, health systems and countries. For example, WHO estimates that in the period 2006-2015, China will lose $558 billion in foregone national income due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes alone.

How can the burden of diabetes be reduced?

Prevention

Simple lifestyle measures have been shown to be effective in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. To help prevent type 2 diabetes and its complications, people should:

Diagnosis and treatment

Early diagnosis can be accomplished through relatively inexpensive blood testing.

Treatment of diabetes involves lowering blood glucose and the levels of other known risk factors that damage blood vessels. Tobacco use cessation is also important to avoid complications.

Interventions that are both cost saving and feasible in developing countries include:

Other cost saving interventions include:

These measures should be supported by a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use.

WHO activities to prevent and control diabetes

WHO aims to stimulate and support the adoption of effective measures for the surveillance, prevention and control of diabetes and its complications, particularly in low and middle-income countries. To this end, WHO:

The WHO Global strategy on diet, physical activity and health complements WHO's diabetes work by focusing on population-wide approaches to promote healthy diet and regular physical activity, thereby reducing the growing global problem of overweight and obesity.

For more information, please contact:

WHO Media centre
Telephone: +41 22 791 2222
E-mail: mediainquiries@who.int

[an error occurred while processing this directive]