How many people have diabetes? A look at the numbers and diabetes risk factors

Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on March 31, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the world and in the United States. Learning more about the dangers and prevalence of this condition is important for being aware of and reducing one’s risk—so continue reading to discover how many people have diabetes, common risk factors, and more.


HbA1c testing can help indicate your blood sugar levels over the past 3 months and can help alert you to a blood sugar level that may be in the prediabetes or diabetes range. To check your HbA1c from the convenience of home, take the Everlywell at-home HbA1c Test (which requires only a simple finger prick for sample collection).


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General statistics and prevalence of diabetes

Estimates from 2018 suggest that about 34.2 million people of all ages had diabetes in the U.S. That’s about 10.5 percent of the country’s population. Of that number, the vast majority of people with diabetes that year were adults (34.1 million).

Breaking the data down further, 26.8 million of those adult cases were actually diagnosed—meaning an alarming 7.3 million American adults have undiagnosed diabetes. Beyond that, roughly 88 million people in the country age 18+ were estimated to have prediabetes. (Prediabetes is when one’s blood sugar is consistently elevated but isn’t yet in the diabetic range; prediabetes is a significant risk factor for developing diabetes in the future.)

Unfortunately, the prevalence of diabetes also tends to largely skew toward people of color—a reflection of the health disparities in the country due in large part to the institutionalized, systemic racism that affects the healthcare and socioeconomic systems. For example, the data suggests that Black Americans are at least 50% more likely to experience diabetes compared to White Americans.

Common signs and symptoms of diabetes

Diabetes is characterized by the body’s improper processing and management of blood sugar, also known as glucose. This leads to excess sugar in the blood, which can lead to some serious health effects.

The symptoms of diabetes can vary based on how high one’s blood sugar levels are and the type of diabetes that one has. The most common signs of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination or increased volume of urine
  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • General fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurry vision or other sudden vision issues
  • Frequent infections
  • Sores and wounds that are slow to heal

Prediabetes refers to higher-than-average blood sugar levels. While the level is not high enough to be considered diabetes yet, prediabetes can eventually turn into type 2 diabetes if no lifestyle changes are made or medication to treat high blood sugar levels is not taken. While prediabetes typically doesn’t have any specific symptoms, in some cases there may be warning signs of prediabetes that are noticeable.

Testing your HbA1c level (which you can do from the comfort of home with the Everlywell at-home HbA1c Test) is one effective way to check if you may have prediabetes, even if in the absence of any symptoms (though it’s important to share your results with your healthcare provider so they can definitively determine whether you have prediabetes).

Related: What is the normal HbA1c level?

Causes and risk factors for diabetes

Diabetes comes in a few different forms. Not much is actually known about what causes type 1 diabetes, but medical professionals do know that it is a result of the immune system mistakenly attacking the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas, which affects your ability to break down sugar. (Insulin is a hormone that helps your body’s cells efficiently take up sugar molecules from the bloodstream and use them for energy.) Type 1 diabetes is believed to be largely tied to one’s heredity.

With type 2 diabetes, your cells become resistant to insulin, while your pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to counteract this resistance. Type 2 diabetes is also thought to have a strong link to family history and genetics, but certain environmental and lifestyle factors can also contribute, such as the following:

  • A sedentary (physically inactive) lifestyle. Using your muscles more improves their ability to absorb glucose and use insulin, helping regulate blood sugar levels. -__ An unhealthy diet__. Excess sugars, highly processed carbohydrates, and red meat may contribute to one’s risk of diabetes.
  • Smoking tobacco. Smokers are reportedly 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes compared to nonsmokers.

If you do have a family history of diabetes and/or have one or more risk factors, consider consulting with your healthcare provider to determine your diabetes risk level and if they recommend any specific next steps.

If you have diabetes or prediabetes and are interested in monitoring your condition, consider taking the Everlywell at-home HbA1c test to check your 3-month average blood sugar level as indicated by glycated hemoglobin (or HbA1c).

References

1. Statistics About Diabetes. American Diabetes Association. URL. Accessed March 31, 2021.

2. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 31, 2021.

3. Prevalence of Both Diagnosed and Undiagnosed Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 31, 2021.

4. Learn the Genetics of Diabetes. American Diabetes Association. URL. Accessed March 31, 2021.

5. Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes. Harvard Medical School. URL. Accessed March 31, 2021.

6. Signorello LB, Schlundt DG, Cohen SS, et al. Comparing diabetes prevalence between African Americans and Whites of similar socioeconomic status. Am J Public Health. 2007;97(12):2260-2267. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2006.094482.

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