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Type 2 Diabetes

What is Type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose (often called blood sugar) is too high. Blood glucose comes from the food you eat, and it’s your body’s main source of energy. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps the glucose get into your cells so it can be used for energy. In Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin efficiently. This causes too much glucose to stay in your blood, so your cells don’t get enough.

More than 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and 90 to 95 percent of them have Type 2 diabetes. In most cases, people who develop Type 2 diabetes are age 45 and older, but it’s becoming more common for children, teens and young adults to develop it. However, there is some good news—you can prevent or delay the development of Type 2 diabetes with some lifestyle changes.

Are you at risk?

Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult onset diabetes, but now we know you can develop it at any age—even in childhood. However, Type 2 diabetes most often occurs in people who are middle age or older. You’re more likely to develop it if you are 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes or are overweight. Diabetes is more common in people who are black, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American, Native Alaskan or Pacific Islander.

What are the symptoms?

Some people never have noticeable symptoms. Others develop Type 2 diabetes so gradually they may not notice the symptoms right away. The most common symptoms are:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling the hands or feet
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Sores that heal slowly
  • Frequent infections of the skin, urinary tract or vagina

What causes Type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes—the most common form of diabetes—is caused by several things, including lifestyle factors and genetics.

Being overweight and physically inactive

You are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if you are not physically active and are overweight or obese. Extra weight sometimes causes insulin resistance and is common in people with Type 2 diabetes. The location of body fat also makes a difference. Extra belly fat is linked to insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and heart and blood vessel disease.

Insulin resistance

Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which muscle, liver and fat cells do not use insulin well. As a result, your body needs more insulin to help glucose enter cells. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin, but, over time, the pancreas can’t make enough and blood glucose levels increase.

Family history

According to the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes does not have a clear pattern of inheritance, although many affected individuals have at least one close family member with the disease. The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases with the number of affected family members. The increased risk is likely due, in part, to shared genetic factors, but it is also related to lifestyle influences (such as eating and exercise habits) that are shared by members of a family.

Family history can also increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes by increasing a person’s tendency to become overweight or obese.

How is Type 2 diabetes treated?

You may be able to manage Type 2 diabetes through healthy eating and physical activity, or your doctor may prescribe medication such as insulin or other injectable or oral medications to help manage blood sugar and avoid complications. It’s also important to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol within the range prescribed by your doctor and get necessary screening tests (kidney function test, dental exams and diabetic eye examination). 

Last updated April 17, 2019