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What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal.  People with diabetes have problems converting food to energy.  After a meal, food is broken down into a sugar called glucose, which is carried by the blood to cells throughout the body.  Cells use the hormone insulin, made in the pancreas, to help them process blood glucose into energy.

People develop type 2 diabetes because the cells in the muscles, liver, and fat do not use insulin properly.  Eventually, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin for the body’s needs.  As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy.  Over the years, high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve problems, gum infections, and amputation.

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Types of Diabetes

Types of Diabetes

The three main kinds of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. In this form of diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas no longer make insulin because the body’s immune system has attacked and destroyed them. Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes taking insulin shots or using an insulin pump, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and taking aspirin daily - for some.

Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. This form of diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by producing more insulin. In time, however, it loses the ability to secrete enough insulin in response to meals. People who are overweight and inactive are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Treatment includes taking diabetes medicines, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and taking aspirin daily—for some.

Gestational Diabetes: Some women develop gestational diabetes late in pregnancy. Although this form of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who has had gestational diabetes is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes is caused by the hormones of pregnancy or a shortage of insulin.

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Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Research has demonstrated that people at risk for type 2 diabetes can prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes by losing a little weight.  The results of the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) showed that weight loss through moderate diet changes and physical activity can delay and prevent type 2 diabetes.  Participants in this federally funded study of 3,234 people at high risk for diabetes experienced a 5 to 7 percent weight loss.  For example, a 5 to 7 percent weight loss for a 200-pound person would be 10 to 14 pounds.

Family history and overweight are strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes.  DPP study participants were overweight and had higher than normal levels of blood glucose, a condition called pre-diabetes, also called impaired glucose tolerance.  Both pre-diabetes and obesity are strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes.  Because of the high risk for diabetes among some minority groups, about half of the DPP participants were African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic/Latino.

DPP participants also included others at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, such as women with a history of gestational diabetes and individuals aged 60 and older.

The DPP tested two approaches to preventing diabetes: lifestyle change - a program of healthy eating and physical activity - and the diabetes drug metformin.  People in the lifestyle change group exercised about 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, usually by walking, and lowered their intake of fat and calories.  Those who took the diabetes drug metformin received information on physical activity and diet.  A third group only received information on physical activity and diet.

The results showed that people in the lifestyle change group reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.  In the first year of the study, people lost an average of 15 pounds. Lifestyle change was even more effective in those aged 60 and older.  They reduced their risk by 71 percent.  People receiving metformin reduced their risk by 31 percent.

What are the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

What are the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Nearly 6 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes and do not know it. Many have no signs or symptoms. Symptoms can also be so mild that you might not even notice them. Some people have symptoms but do not suspect diabetes.

Symptoms include

  • increased thirst
  • increased hunger
  • fatigue
  • increased urination, especially at night
  • weight loss
  • blurred vision
  • sores that do not heal

Many people do not find out they have the disease until they have diabetes complications, such as blurry vision or heart trouble. If you find out early that you have diabetes, then you can get treatment to prevent damage to your body.

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Should I be tested for diabetes?

Should I be tested for diabetes?

Anyone 45 years old or older should consider getting tested for diabetes.  If you are 45 or older and overweight - see the BMI chart - getting tested is strongly recommended.  If you are younger than 45, overweight, and have one or more of the risk factors, you should consider getting tested. Ask your doctor for a fasting blood glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test.  Your doctor will tell you if you have normal blood glucose, pre-diabetes, or diabetes.

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What does having pre-diabetes mean?

What does having pre-diabetes mean?

Pre-diabetes means your blood glucose is higher than normal but lower than the diabetes range. In 2007, at least 57 million American adults had pre-diabetes. Having pre-diabetes also means you are at risk for getting type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, you can reduce the risk of getting diabetes and even return to normal blood glucose levels with modest weight loss through healthy eating and moderate physical activity. If you are told you have pre-diabetes, have your blood glucose checked again in 1 to 2 years.

Besides being older and overweight, what other factors increase my risk for type 2 diabetes?

Besides being older and overweight, what other factors increase my risk for type 2 diabetes?

To find out your risk for type 2 diabetes, check each item that applies to you.

  • I have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes.
  • My family background is Alaska Native, American Indian, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
  • I have had gestational diabetes, or I gave birth to at least one baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
  • My blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg or above, or I have been told that I have high blood pressure.
  • My cholesterol levels are not normal. My HDL cholesterol—“good” cholesterol—is below 35 mg/dL, or my triglyceride level is above 250 mg/dL.
  • I am fairly inactive. I exercise fewer than three times a week.
  • I have polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS— women only.
  • On previous testing, I had impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT).
  • I have other clinical conditions associated with insulin resistance, such as a condition called acanthosis nigricans, characterized by a dark, velvety rash around my neck or armpits.
  • I have a history of cardiovascular disease.

The more items you checked, the higher your risk.

How can I reduce my risk?

How can I reduce my risk?

You can do a lot to lower your chances of getting diabetes. Exercising regularly, reducing fat and calorie intake, and losing a little weight can help you reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels also helps you stay healthy.

If you are overweight then take these steps:

  • Reach and maintain a reasonable body weight.
  • Make wise food choices most of the time.
  • Be physically active every day.

If you are fairly inactive then take this step:

  • Be physically active every day.

If your blood pressure is too high then take these steps:

  • Reach and maintain a reasonable body weight.
  • Make wise food choices most of the time.
  • Reduce your intake of sodium and alcohol.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • Talk with your doctor about whether you need medicine to control your blood pressure.

If your cholesterol or triglyceride levels are too high then take these steps:

  • Make wise food choices most of the time.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • Talk with your doctor about whether you need medicine to control your cholesterol levels.

Making Changes to Lower My Risk

Making big changes in your life is hard, especially if you are faced with more than one change. You can make it easier by taking these steps:

  • Make a plan to change behavior.
  • Decide exactly what you will do and when you will do it.
  • Plan what you need to get ready.
  • Think about what might prevent you from reaching your goals.
  • Find family and friends who will support and encourage you.
  • Decide how you will reward yourself when you do what you have planned.

Your doctor, a dietitian, or a counselor can help you make a plan. Consider making changes to lower your risk of diabetes.

Reach and Maintain a Reasonable Body Weight

Reach and Maintain a Reasonable Body Weight

Your weight affects your health in many ways. Being overweight can keep your body from making and using insulin properly. Excess body weight can also cause high blood pressure.

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body weight relative to height. You can use BMI to see whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. Use the Body Mass Index Table to find your BMI.

  • Find your height in the left-hand column.
  • Move across in the same row to the number closest to your weight.
  • The number at the top of that column is your BMI. Check the word above your BMI to see whether you are normal weight, overweight, or obese.

If you are overweight or obese, choose sensible ways to get in shape.

  • Avoid crash diets. Instead, eat less of the foods you usually have. Limit the amount of fat you eat.
  • Increase your physical activity. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Set a reasonable weight-loss goal, such as losing 1 pound a week. Aim for a long-term goal of losing 5 to 7 percent of your total body weight.
Make Wise Food Choices Most of the Time

Make Wise Food Choices Most of the Time

What you eat has a big impact on your health.  By making wise food choices, you can help control your body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

  • Take a look at the serving sizes of the foods you eat.  Reduce serving sizes of main courses such as meat, desserts, and foods high in fat.  Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit your fat intake to about 25 percent of your total calories.  For example, if your food choices add up to about 2,000 calories a day, try to eat no more than 56 grams of fat. Your doctor or a dietitian can help you figure out how much fat to have.  You can also check food labels for fat content.
  • Limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg - about 1 teaspoon of salt - each day.
  • Talk with your doctor about whether you may drink alcoholic beverages.  If you choose to drink alcoholic beverages, limit your intake to one drink - for women - or two drinks - for men - per day.
  • You may also wish to reduce the number of calories you have each day.  People in the DPP lifestyle change group lowered their daily calorie total by an average of about 450 calories.  Your doctor or dietitian can help you with a meal plan that emphasizes weight loss.
  • Keep a food and exercise log.  Write down what you eat, how much you exercise—anything that helps keep you on track.
  • When you meet your goal, reward yourself with a nonfood item or activity, like watching a movie.
Be Physically Active Every Day

Be Physically Active Every Day

Regular exercise tackles several risk factors at once.  It helps you lose weight, keeps your cholesterol and blood pressure under control, and helps your body use insulin.  People in the DPP who were physically active for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes.  Many chose brisk walking for exercise.
If you are not very active, you should start slowly.  Talk with your doctor first about what kinds of exercise would be safe for you.  Make a plan to increase your activity level toward the goal of being active at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
Choose activities you enjoy.  Some ways to work extra activity into your daily routine include the following:

  • Take the stairs rather than an elevator or escalator.
  • Park at the far end of the parking lot and walk.
  • Get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Walk or bicycle whenever you can.
Take Your Prescribed Medications

Take Your Prescribed Medications

Some people need medication to help control their blood pressure or cholesterol levels. If you do, take your medicines as directed. Ask your doctor about medicines to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Hope through Research

Hope through Research

We now know that many people can prevent type 2 diabetes through weight loss, regular exercise, and lowering their intake of fat and calories.  Researchers are intensively studying the genetic and environmental factors that underlie the susceptibility to obesity, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.  As they learn more about the molecular events that lead to diabetes, they will develop ways to prevent and cure the different stages of this disease.  DPP researchers continue to monitor DPP participants to learn more about the study’s long-term effects through the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study.

People with diabetes and those at risk for it now have easier access to clinical trials that test promising new approaches to treatment and prevention.  Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research.  For information about current studies, visit www.ClinicalTrials.gov.

For More Information

For More Information

National Diabetes Education Program
1 Diabetes Way
Bethesda, MD  20814–9692
Phone: 1–888–693–NDEP (6337)
TTY: 1–866–569–1162
Fax: 703–738–4929
Email: ndep@mail.nih.gov
Internet: www.ndep.nih.gov

American Diabetes Association
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311
Phone: 1–800–DIABETES (342–2383)
Fax: 703–549–6995
Email: AskADA@diabetes.org
Internet: www.diabetes.org

Acknowledgements and Notices

IMPORTANT:  The information on this website is NOT intended to substitute for the expertise and advice of a qualified healthcare professional. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with a qualified healthcare professional.

The mention of any product, service, or therapy is NOT an endorsement.

Neither the author nor the publisher shall be responsible for any damage or harm caused by the improper use of information in this website.

Any diagnostic or treatment options presented herein are for general informational purposes and may NOT necessarily represent tests or treatments that your healthcare professional performs, provides, or would recommend. The information is simply provided for educational purposes and in a good faith effort to help patients make a more informed decision about their healthcare.

Furthermore, any tests or treatments presented herein may NOT be comprehensive with regard to all the diagnostic or therapeutic options that may be available for any given medical condition or disease. Accordingly, you should always discuss any decisions about treatment or care with a qualified healthcare professional.

This website may feature actors, models, or artistic representations.  The actors and models may NOT have actually used or provided any product or service described or promoted in this website. These actors and models may be identified with the notification: "Model" or "Model – not actual patient". If actual patients are featured, they may be identified with the notification: "Actual subject", "Real subject", and/or "Before vs. After".

Artistic renderings of any medical condition, disease, or treatment in this website are for illustrative purposes only and may NOT be a realistic depiction of actual medical conditions, diseases, patients, or treatments. Actual outcomes of any medical condition or actual results achieved by any treatment may be significantly different due to variations in the delivery of healthcare and the individual circumstances of each patient.

"Am I at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes"
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