What is diabetes?

Diabetes basics: the main players

A glucose monitor.

Glucose is a simple sugar that serves as a source of energy so that our bodies can function. Sugars found in the food we eat are broken down to glucose by our bodies, which then enters our blood where it can be used by the body as fuel to provide energy. Too much glucose, however, can be a problem. That’s where insulin helps.

Syringe with needle.

Insulin is a hormone that helps to control the amount of glucose in the blood. Insulin allows your body’s cells to use the sugar as energy or store it as fat. When the glucose is used this way, your body’s glucose levels (blood sugar levels) go back down to where they should be.

The pancreas.

Insulin is made by the pancreas, which is an organ just behind your stomach.

Get the facts on type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes.

9 out of 10 people

9 out of 10 people with diabetes have type 2

Who can develop type 2 diabetes?

Anyone can develop type 2 diabetes. Some things that indicate an increased risk of having diabetes are:

  • Having a close relative with the disease
  • Being a member of a high-risk group including Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent
  • Having high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Being overweight

People of many ethnicities – including those of South Asian, Asian, African and Aboriginal descent – have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with people of European ancestry.

9 out of 10 people

Studies have shown that people of Asian descent have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes – even at a lower BMI compared with people of European decent


South Asians are up to 6x more likely to have type 2 diabetes compared to the general population

Why does the heart matter in type 2 diabetes?

For Canadians living with type 2 diabetes, death from heart disease is a serious risk.


Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in people with type 2 diabetes


People with type 2 diabetes develop heart disease 15 years earlier compared to people without diabetes

1 in 2

1 in 2 people with type 2 diabetes dies due to heart disease

If you have type 2 diabetes and a history of heart disease, diet and exercise may not be enough to protect your heart.

Take an active role in your heart health. Speak with your doctor about medications that – along with diet and exercise – have been proven to lower the risk of dying from problems related to the heart and blood vessels in people who have type 2 diabetes and a history of heart disease.

Should I get tested?
Diabetes Canada urges all Canadians over 40 years old to be tested for diabetes at least once every three years. This can be done using a simple blood test.

Diabetes and beyond: complications to know about

Having high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, can affect other parts of your body and lead to other health problems.

People with diabetes can experience:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Foot problems, non-traumatic lower limb (leg, foot, toe, etc.) amputation
  • Eye disease (retinopathy) that can lead to blindness
  • Heart problems, such as heart disease, which can lead to heart attack and heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Anxiety
  • Nerve damage
  • Erectile dysfunction (men)
Type 2 diabetes can have a negative impact on other aspects of your health – particularly your heart
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Talk to your doctor about possible medication options

Feel confident you're getting the most out of your next doctor's appointment by preparing ahead of time. Use this guide as a cheat sheet to help organize your thoughts and questions.

Selection of healthy food.

Managing blood sugar levels

For people with type 2 diabetes, managing blood sugar levels can be tricky. Learn how to take care of your blood sugar levels when they are too low or too high.

Manage the highs and lows
A nurse looking at a medical chart.

Risk factors for related conditions

Managing your risks for other diseases, including heart disease, can be important for your health.

Understand the risks