Type 2 diabetes (also called type 2 diabetes mellitus) is more common than type 1 diabetes. Around 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National 2014 Diabetes Statistics Report, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the US population have diabetes. This number reflects the 21 million who are currently diagnosed and another 8.1 million who do not even know they have diabetes.
There are several key differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The most important difference is in the hormone insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).
People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin at all. People with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, however the cells in the muscles, liver and fat tissue are inefficient at absorbing the insulin and regulating glucose. As a result, the body tries to compensate by having the pancreas pump out more insulin. But eventually the pancreas slowly loses the ability to produce enough insulin, and as a result the cells don’t get the energy they need.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, meaning that the longer someone has it, the more “help” they will need to manage blood glucose levels. This will require more medications and eventually, injected insulin will be needed.
People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but their bodies don’t use it correctly; this is referred to as being insulin resistant. People with type 2 diabetes may also be unable to produce enough insulin to handle the glucose in their body. In these instances, insulin is needed to allow the glucose to travel from the bloodstream into our cells, where it’s used to create energy.
Type 2 used to be called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes because it was diagnosed mainly in older people, and they did not require insulin to manage their diabetes. However, because more children are starting to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and insulin is used more frequently to manage type 2 diabetes, referring to the condition as “adult-onset” or “non-insulin dependent” is no longer correct.
Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight (BMI greater than 25), unhealthy eating choices, and lack of exercise. And while it’s true that too much body fat and physical inactivity does increase the likelihood of developing type 2, even people who are fit and trim can develop this type of diabetes.
Being told that you have type 2 diabetes can be frightening. It is a chronic condition that you will deal with for the rest of your life, but it doesn’t have to define your life. There are many sources for help every step of the way, from initial diagnosis to living with the condition for decades. It is also important to stay updated about new diabetes treatment and new research. Because diabetes changes the longer you have it, staying open to learning along the way will make it easier to cope and manage for you and your family.
Learn all you can about how best to manage your diabetes—which you can do here on EndocrineWeb—and be proactive in taking good care of you.