What is type 2 diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make sufficient insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces. This inhibits the control of blood glucose (sugar) levels and leads to raised blood glucose (hyperglycemia), which causes damage to various tissues and organs in the body.
Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90–95% of all diabetics. Type 2 diabetics cannot use insulin efficiently and therefore cannot keep their blood sugar at normal levels. This form of diabetes develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adulthood, although it is becoming a more frequent diagnosis in children and teens (1).
Other forms of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs due to an autoimmune reaction that targets the body’s own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It usually develops quickly and is often diagnosed during childhood or the teenage years. Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women and is associated with health risks for the unborn baby, as well as an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life for both the mother and child (1).
What are the signs of type 2 diabetes?
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can slowly develop over several years, while some type 2 diabetics may not notice any signs at all (2). If symptoms are present, they can include:
- Increased frequency and need for urination
- Often thirsty
- Often hungry
- Increased frequency of infections, e.g., yeast infections
What increases the risk of type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is caused by your cells in the body not responding well to insulin. The pancreas increases insulin production to try to overcome this, but eventually, it cannot produce enough insulin, and blood sugar rises.
Several factors increase the risk of type 2 diabetes (3), including:
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Altered lipid levels (e.g., elevated LDL “bad” cholesterol)
- Lack of physical activity
- Previously had gestational diabetes
How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?
Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed by measuring blood sugar (glucose) levels. The most effective method for this is with an HbA1c test, which is available here (4). HbA1c is glycated hemoglobin. It forms when hemoglobin within red blood cells joins with glucose. HbA1c levels reflect the average blood glucose level during the preceding 2-3 months. This differs from a blood glucose test, which measures the concentration of glucose at only the point at which the blood sample was collected.
- Healthy HbA1c levels are less than 5.7%
- 5.7% – 6.4% indicates prediabetes (increased risk of developing diabetes)
- >6.5% supports a diabetes diagnosis
How can type 2 diabetes be prevented and treated?
Simple, proven lifestyle changes can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. These include losing excess body weight, eating healthier (especially reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake), and getting regular physical exercise. There are also different medication options available to help lower blood sugar levels. Read our previous article here for more tips to lower your blood sugar.
1. What is Diabetes. CDC. June 2020.
2. Diabetes Symptoms. CDC. April 2021.
3. What causes diabetes? Find out and take control. American Diabetes Association.
4. Manage Blood Sugar, Diabetes. CDC. Reviewed April 2021.