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Health Education Blog

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Posted by Staff on September 27, 2019

Type 2 diabetes (2)There are two main types of diabetes, known as Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is far more rare and results from the pancreas ceasing to function. Usually Type 1 diabetes will appear in a child by age 5, but in some cases it's onset can be delayed until adulthood. There is no "cure" for Type 1 diabetes, there is only treatment and management of the condition.

Type 2 diabetes on the other hand often does not appear until adulthood, most commonly in the 45 - 64 age demographic. For this reason, Type 2 diabetes was often referred to as "Adult-Onset diabetes," a term that is being used less now that Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in children and teens. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 95% of all diabetes cases in the US. 

So what exactly is Type 2 diabetes? What causes it and how can it be prevented or managed? Harvard Medical School lays it out very clearly in the article below.


Posted by: Harvard Health Publishing

Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

During digestion, food is broken down into basic components. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, primarily glucose. Glucose is a critically important source of energy for the body's cells. To provide energy to the cells, glucose needs to leave the blood and get inside the cells.

Insulin traveling in the blood signals the cells to take up glucose. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen. When levels of glucose in the blood rise (for example, after a meal), the pancreas produces more insulin.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body's cells resist the normal effect of insulin, which is to drive glucose in the blood into the inside of the cells. This condition is called insulin resistance. As a result, glucose starts to build up in the blood.

In people with insulin resistance, the pancreas "sees" the blood glucose level rising. The pancreas responds by making extra insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar. Over time, the body's insulin resistance gets worse. In response the pancreas makes more and more insulin. Finally, the pancreas gets "exhausted". It cannot keep up with the demand for more and more insulin. It poops out. As a result, blood glucose levels start to rise.

Type 2 diabetes runs in families. Obesity greatly increases the risk of diabetes.


The symptoms of diabetes are related to high blood glucose levels. They include:

Excessive urination, thirst and hunger

Weight loss

Increased susceptibility to infections, especially yeast or fungal infections

Extremely high blood sugar levels also can lead to a dangerous complication called hyperosmolar syndrome. This is a life-threatening form of dehydration. In some cases, hyperosmolar syndrome is the first sign that a person has type 2 diabetes. It causes confused thinking, weakness, nausea and even seizure and coma.


Type 2 diabetes affects all parts of the body. It can cause serious, potentially life-threatening complications. These include:

  • Atherosclerosis — Atherosclerosis is fat buildup in the artery walls. This can impair blood flow to the all the organs. The heart, brain and legs are most often affected.
  • Retinopathy — Tiny blood vessels in the retina (the back of the eye that sees light) can become damaged by high blood sugar. The damage can block blood flow to the retina, and can lead to bleeding into the retina. Both damage the ability of the retina to see light. Caught early, retinopathy damage can be minimized by tightly controlling blood sugar and using laser therapy. Untreated retinopathy can lead to blindness.
  • Neuropathy — This is nerve damage. The most common type is peripheral neuropathy. The nerves to the legs are damaged first, causing pain and numbness in the feet. This can advance to cause symptoms in the legs and hands. Damage to the nerves that control digestion, sexual function and urination can also occur.
  • Foot problems — Sores and blisters on the feet occur for two reasons:
    • If peripheral neuropathy causes numbness, the person may not feel irritation in the foot. The skin can break down, form an ulcer, and the ulcer can get infected.
    • Blood circulation can be poor, leading to slow healing. Left untreated, a simple sore can become infected and very large. If medical treatment cannot heal the sore, an amputation may be required.
  • Nephropathy — Damage to the kidneys. This is more likely if blood sugars remain elevated and high blood pressure is not treated aggressively.


Diabetes is diagnosed by testing the blood for sugar levels. Blood is tested in the morning after you have fasted overnight.

Typically, the body keeps blood sugar levels between 70 and 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), even after fasting. If a blood sugar level after fasting is greater than 125 mg/dL, diabetes is diagnosed.

Your doctor will examine you to look for:

  • Obesity, especially abdominal obesity—a condition that greatly raises a person's risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure—a condition often present in people with type 2 diabetes, that together with diabetes greatly increases the risk of heart disease and strokes.
  • Deposits of blood, or puffy yellow spots in the retina of your eyes—complications of both diabetes and high blood pressure, that increase the risk of blindness
  • Decreased sensation in the legs—which can cause a person with diabetes to fail to notice developing foot sores, particularly sores on the underside of the feet
  • Weak pulses in the feet—a condition that can slow or prevent the healing of foot sores, and possibly lead to amputation
  • Blisters, ulcers or infections of the feet

Laboratory tests are also used routinely to evaluate diabetes. These include:

  • Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test. Blood is taken in the morning after fasting overnight. Normally, blood sugar levels remain between 70 and 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Diabetes is diagnosed if a fasting blood sugar level is 126 mg/dL or higher.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). Blood sugar is measured two hours after drinking 75 grams of glucose. Diabetes is diagnosed if the 2-hour blood sugar level is 200 mg/dL or higher.
  • Random blood glucose test. A blood sugar of 200 mg/dL or greater at any time of day combined with symptoms of diabetes is sufficient to make the diagnosis.
  • Hemoglobin A1C (glycohemoglobin). This test measures the average glucose level over the prior two to three months. Diabetes is diagnosed if the hemoglobin A1C level is 6.5% percent or higher.
  • Blood creatinine and urine microalbumin. Tests for evidence of kidney disease.
  • Lipid profile. Measures levels of triglycerides and total, HDL, and LDL cholesterol. This evaluates the risk of atherosclerosis. People with diabetes who also have high levels of total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol are at greatly increased risk for heart disease and strokes.

Expected Duration

Diabetes is a lifelong illness. However, people with type 2 diabetes can sometimes restore their blood sugar levels to normal just by eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising, and losing weight.

Aging and episodic illness can cause the body's insulin resistance to increase. As a result, additional treatment typically is required over time.


If a close relative—particularly, a parent or sibling—has type 2 diabetes, or if your blood glucose test shows "pre-diabetes"—defined as blood glucose levels between 100 and 125 mg/dL—you are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. You can help to prevent type 2 diabetes by:

  • Maintaining your ideal body weight.
  • Exercising regularly—like a brisk walk of 1-2 miles in 30 minutes—at least five times a week, even if that does not result in you achieving an ideal weight. That's because regular exercise reduces insulin resistance, even if you don't lose weight.
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Taking medication. The medication metformin (Glucophage) offers some additional protection for people with pre-diabetes.



Diet and Exercise

In most cases, type 2 diabetes treatment begins with weight reduction through diet and exercise. A healthy diet for a person with diabetes is:

  • Low in saturated fats and cholesterol
  • Without any trans fats
  • Low in total calories
  • Nutritionally balanced with abundant amounts of:
    • Whole-grain foods
    • Monounsaturated oils
    • Fruits and vegetables

A daily multivitamin is recommended for most people with diabetes.

For some people, type 2 diabetes can be controlled just with diet and exercise. Even if medications are required, diet and exercise remain important for controlling diabetes.

Medications: Pills

These medications work in many different ways. They include medications that:

  • Reduce insulin resistance in the muscles and liver.
  • Increase the amount of insulin made and released by the pancreas.
  • Cause a burst of insulin release with each meal.
  • Delay the absorption of sugars from the intestine.
  • Slow your digestion.
  • Reduce your appetite for large meals.
  • Decrease the conversion of fat to glucose.
  • Increase the amount of sugar that flows out of the kidneys into urine.


Because type 2 diabetes develops when the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance, about one of three people with this disease take some form of insulin injection.

In advanced type 2 diabetes, or for people who want to tightly control glucose levels, insulin may be needed more than once per day and in higher doses.

Treatment plans that include both very long-acting insulin and very short-acting insulin are frequently the most successful for controlling blood sugar. Very short-acting insulin is used with meals, to help control the spike in blood sugar levels that occur with a meal. If a person does not eat on a regular schedule, very short-acting insulin can be particularly helpful.

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There are risks associated with diabetes medications as well as various possible side effects. Your first line of defense against Type 2 diabetes is always to improve your overall health. Avoid junk foods, stay active and maintain a healthy weight.

If you have a family history of diabetes or are exhibiting any of the symptoms, visit the Medical Specialty Center – Your Everyday Health Care Clinic – at Orchard Hospital. Walk-ins are welcome. Open 7 days a week. It’s our goal to have fast and friendly care while delivering quality health care.

Schedule an Appointment Today!

Our mission at Orchard Hospital is to provide our community with superior health care. We strive to ensure that your experience at Orchard Hospital is as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Our priority is to provide you with the care you need when you need it, with skill, compassion, and respect.

Topics: Diabetes

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