Type 2 diabetes, once called non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes.

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, the bodies of people with type 2 diabetes make insulin. But either their pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin well enough. This is called insulin resistance. When there isn’t enough insulin or the insulin is not used as it should be, glucose (sugar) can’t get into the body’s cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, the body’s cells are not able to function properly. Other problems associated with the buildup of glucose in the blood include:

Damage to the body.

Over time, the high glucose levels in the blood can damage the nerves and small blood vessels of the eyes, kidneys, and heart and lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries that can cause heart attack and stroke.

Dehydration.

The buildup of sugar in the blood can cause an increase in urination, causing dehydration.

Diabetic coma (hyperosmolar nonketotic diabetic coma).

When a person with type 2 diabetes becomes very ill or severely dehydrated and is not able to drink enough fluids to make up for the fluid losses, they may develop this life-threatening complication.

Type 2 Diabetes in Children

More and more children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Find out about type 2 diabetes symptoms in children, the diagnosis, and the treatment of type 2 diabetes in childhood. If your child is at risk for childhood diabetes, it’s important to learn specific self-care tips to help prevent diabetes.

Who Gets Type 2 Diabetes?

Anyone can get type 2 diabetes. But those at highest risk for the disease are those who:

  • Are over 45
  • Are obese or overweight
  • Have had gestational diabetes
  • Have family members who have type 2 diabetes
  • Have prediabetes
  • Don’t exercise
  • Have low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides
  • Have high blood pressure

Causes of Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a number of diseases that involve problems with the hormone insulin. While not everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight, obesity and lack of physical activity are two of the most common causes of this form of diabetes.

In a healthy person, the pancreas (an organ behind the stomach) releases insulin to help the body store and use the sugar from the food you eat. Diabetes happens when one of the following occurs:

  • When the pancreas does not produce any insulin.
  • When the pancreas produces very little insulin.
  • When the body does not respond appropriately to insulin, a condition called “insulin resistance.”

Unlike people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes produce insulin; however, the insulin their pancreas secretes is either not enough or the body is unable to recognize the insulin and use it properly (insulin resistance). When there isn’t enough insulin or the insulin is not used as it should be, glucose (sugar) can’t get into the body’s cells and builds up in the bloodstream instead. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it causes damage in multiple areas of the body. Also, since cells aren’t getting the glucose they need, they can’t function properly.

The Role of Insulin in the Cause of Type 2 Diabetes

To understand why insulin is important, it helps to know more about how the body uses food for energy. Your body is made up of millions of cells. To make energy, these cells need food in a very simple form. When you eat or drink, much of the food is broken down into a simple sugar called “glucose.” Then, glucose is transported through the bloodstream to these cells where it can be used to provide the energy the body needs for daily activities.

The amount of glucose in the bloodstream is tightly regulated by insulin and other hormones. Insulin is always being released in small amounts by the pancreas. When the amount of glucose in the blood rises to a certain level, the pancreas will release more insulin to push more glucose into the cells. This causes the glucose levels in the blood (blood glucose levels) to drop.

To keep blood glucose levels from getting too low (hypoglycemia or low blood sugar), the body signals you to eat and releases some glucose from the stores kept in the liver; it also signals the body to lower the amount of insulin being released.

Health Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is believed to have a strong genetic link, meaning that it tends to run in families. Several genes are being studied that may be related to the cause of type 2 diabetes. If you have any of the following type 2 diabetes risk factors, it’s important to ask your doctor about a diabetes test. With a proper diabetes diet and healthy lifestyle habits, along with diabetes medication, if necessary, can manage type 2 diabetes just like you manage other areas of your life. Be sure to continue seeking the latest information on type 2 diabetes as you become your own health advocate.

Other type 2 diabetes risk factors include the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood triglyceride (fat) levels
  • Gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • High-fat and carbohydrate diet
  • High alcohol intake
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Aging: Increasing age is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes begins to rise significantly at about age 45, and rises considerably after age 65.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can cause serious health complications. That’s why is very important to know how to spot type 2 diabetes symptoms. Even prediabetes can increase the chance of heart disease, just like type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Talk to your doctor about preventive measures you can take now to reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes due to high blood sugar may include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger (especially after eating)
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss (even though you are eating and feel hungry)
  • Fatigue (weak, tired feeling)
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Loss of consciousness (rare)

Other symptoms of type 2 diabetes may include:

  • Slow-healing sores or cuts
  • Itching of the skin (usually around the vaginal or groin area)
  • Frequent yeast infections
  • Recent weight gain or unexplained weight loss
  • Velvety dark skin changes of the neck, armpit, and groin, called acanthosis nigricans
  • Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet
  • Decreased vision
  • Impotency

How Is Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosed?

To diagnose type 2 diabetes, your doctor will first check for abnormalities in your blood (high blood glucose level) during a random fasting blood test or through a screening test known as the 2-hour glucose tolerance test. Or you may get a blood test called a hemoglobin A1c that shows your average blood sugar for the past 2 to 3 months. Also, he or she may look for glucose or ketones in your urine.

Complications Associated With Type 2 Diabetes

If your type 2 diabetes isn’t well controlled, there are a number of serious or life-threatening problems you may have, including:

Retinopathy.

People with type 2 diabetes may already have eye problems related to diabetes. Over time, more and more people who initially do not have eye problems related to the disease will develop some form of eye problem. It is important to control not only blood sugar but also blood pressure and cholesterol to prevent eye disease from getting worse. Fortunately, the eye problems aren’t bad in most people.

Kidney damage.

The risk of kidney disease gets worse over time, meaning the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk. If not caught early, kidney damage can lead to kidney failure.

Poor blood circulation and nerve damage.

Damage to the blood vessels can lead to a higher risk of stroke and heart attack as well as peripheral artery disease. Damage to nerves and hardening of the arteries leads to worse sensation and poor blood circulation in the feet. This can lead to more infections and a higher risk of skin ulcers, which significantly raise the risk of amputation. Damage to nerves may also lead to digestive problems, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

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