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Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 Learning Center

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Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2

Type 2 Diabetes Basics

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease in which people have problems regulating their blood sugar. People with diabetes have high blood sugar because their bodies:

  • do not produce enough insulin
  • are not responsive to insulin
  • a combination of both

Type 2 diabetes is extremely common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 29 million children and adults in the United States have some form of diabetes. That is about 9 percent of the population. The vast majority of these people have type 2 diabetes.

How Type 2 Diabetes Affects Blood Sugar

When you eat food, the body digests the carbohydrates in into a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is the main source of energy for cells. Cells rely on the hormone insulin to absorb and use glucose as a form of energy. Insulin is produced by the pancreas.

People usually develop type 2 diabetes because their cells have become resistant to insulin. Then, over time, their body may stop making sufficient insulin as well. These problems lead to blood sugar, or glucose, building up in the blood

Types of Diabetes

There are several different types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes because it is usually first diagnosed in childhood, though it can be diagnosed later in life as well.. People with type 1 diabetes cannot make insulin and are insulin dependent. They must use insulin injections to control their blood sugar.

According to the CDC, only about five percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes (CDC).

There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, and was once  known as adult onset diabetes. However, in recent years, the rate of type 2 diagnoses in children has been growing.

Type 2 diabetes usually starts as insulin resistance. Cells stop responding properly to insulin and sugar is unable to get from the blood into the cells. Over time, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep blood sugars in the normal range and the body becomes progressively less able to regulate blood sugar.

Many people with diabetes can manage their blood sugar with diet and exercise, especially if they lose weight (if they are overweight).  If not, medications to help control blood sugar are available.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is often preventable. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • obesity
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • older age
  • family history of diabetes
  • history of gestational diabetes
  • race or ethnicity

You can greatly reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by keeping your weight in its ideal range and exercising regularly. If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, talk to your doctor about how to lower your risk for progressing to type 2 diabetes

Other Types of Diabetes

Pregnant women are at risk of gestational diabetes, characterized by high blood sugar levels that are associated with pregnancy. This form of diabetes usually resolves or goes away after a woman gives birth. However, she must carefully control her blood sugar during pregnancy to reduce the risk of possible complications. Women with gestational diabetes have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life.

Certain diseases and genetic conditions can also cause other types of diabetes. However, these types of diabetes are rare.

Long-Term Outlook for People with Type 2 Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes significantly increases your risk of long-term health problems and even death. According to the CDC, the death rate for people with type 2 diabetes is twice as high as that of people the same age people without diabetes. In addition, diabetes increases your risk of conditions such as:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • eye disease, including blindness
  • kidney disease
  • nervous system damage
  • amputations
  • dental problems

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure (CDC) and amputations among adults.

Fortunately, most of the complications of type 2 diabetes are preventable. Keeping your blood sugar under control can prevent serious complications. This requires a lifelong commitment to staying healthy, including:

  • eating well
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • exercising
  • taking medications, as prescribed by your doctor

In addition, regular preventative care visits can help keep minor complications from becoming more serious ones. For example:

  • Your eye doctor can catch problems early before they lead to blindness.
  • Early kidney treatment can help maintain kidney function.
  • Regular foot checks can reduce the risk of damage extensive enough to require amputation.

Don’t let diabetes control your life. Control your blood sugar instead, and take charge of your health. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Katherine Brind'Amour
Published on Jul 24, 2014
Medically reviewed on Jul 24, 2014 by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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