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What is Type 2 Diabetes?

An overview and key facts about type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is more common than type 1 diabetes with about 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes having T2D. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the US population have diabetes.1

More alarming, an estimated 84 million more American adults have prediabetes, which if not treated, will advance to diabetes within five years.1

type 2 diabetes

Key Differences between Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

The most important difference involves the role of 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 for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce any 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 cannot regulate glucose well. As a result, the body tries to compensate by having the pancreas pump out more insulin. But the pancreas slowly loses the ability to produce enough insulin, and as a result, the cells don’t get the energy they need to function properly.

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 may require more medications and eventually, injected insulin could be needed.

Individuals with T2D 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.

How Type 2 Diabetes Has Changed Over Time

Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes because it was diagnosed mainly in adults who did not require insulin to manage their condition. However, because more children are starting to be diagnosed with T2D, and insulin is used more frequently to help manage type 2 diabetes, referring to the condition as “adult-onset” or “non-insulin dependent” is no longer accurate.

The onset of type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight (BMI greater than 25), and is harder to control when food choices are not adjusted to lessen the impact of weight gain and poorly controlled blood sugar; the condition is worsened when you get no exercise. And while it’s true that being overweight and physically inactive (being sedentary) does increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes even people who are fit and in a healthy weight range may develop diabetes.2,3

Certainly, learning that you have diabetes can be frightening. It is very likely going to be a chronic condition that you will need to deal with for the rest of your life, but it doesn’t have to define who you are. There are many resources to help you every step of the way—from your initial diagnosis to living with the condition for decades.2,3

It is also important to remain up-to-date about new diabetes treatments and new research. Diabetes changes the longer you have it, so staying open to learning better ways to manage your symptoms and to lessen your risks of complications will help to make it easier to cope and manage not just for yourself but also for your family.

Learn all you can about how best to manage your diabetes—which you can do here at EndocrineWeb—and then be proactive in appying what you've learned so you can take good care of you.

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Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms and Early Warning Signs