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HomeDiabetes - What is Type 2 Diabetes
 What is Type 2 Diabetes
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What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 Diabetes: Development

Diabetes develops when your body can no longer properly process blood sugar (glucose) out of your blood. Normally, your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin which helps cells turn blood sugar into fuel. But if your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or your cells can’t use insulin correctly, your blood sugar levels rise.

Type 2 Diabetes: Risk Factors


Even though type 2 diabetes is often called adult-onset diabetes, it can begin at any age and in any person. However, there are several risk factors that might put you at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes:
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Family history (especially a parent or sibling with diabetes)
  • Native American, African-American, or Hispanic heritage
  • Prior gestational (pregnancy-related) diabetes
  • Birth of a baby over nine pounds in weight
  • High blood pressure or treatment for high blood pressure
  • Low HDL or “good” cholesterol (below 35 milligrams per deciliter)
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome diagnosis (a hormone imbalance in women)
  • Dark, velvety rash around the armpits or neck, called acanthosis nigricans
  • History of heart disease

Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

In general, people with diabetes either have a total lack of insulin (type 1 diabetes) or they have too little insulin or cannot use insulin effectively (type 2 diabetes).

  • Type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes), accounts for 5% to 10% of all people with diabetes.1 In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system destroys the cells that release insulin, eventually eliminating insulin production from the body. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb sugar (glucose), which they need to produce energy.
  • Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset or non–insulin-dependent diabetes) can develop at any age, but most commonly becomes apparent during adulthood. But the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children is rising. Type 2 diabetes accounts for the vast majority of people with diabetes—90% to 95%. In contrast to type 1 diabetes, insulin resistance is the main characteristic of type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance refers to the body's inability to respond properly to insulin. Resistance develops because of many factors, including genetics, obesity, increasing age, and having high blood sugar for a long time.

How are these diseases different?

Differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Symptoms usually start in childhood or young adulthood. People often seek medical help because they are seriously ill from sudden symptoms of high blood sugar.

The person may not have symptoms before diagnosis. Usually the disease is discovered in adulthood, but an increasing number of children are being diagnosed with the disease.

Episodes of low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia) are common.

There are no episodes of low blood sugar level, unless the person is taking insulin or certain oral diabetes medicines.

It cannot be prevented.

It can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating sensibly, and exercising regularly.

How are they alike?

Both types of diabetes greatly increase a person's risk for a range of serious complications. Although monitoring and management of the disease can prevent complications, diabetes remains the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure. It also continues to be a critical risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and foot or leg amputations.


  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008). National Diabetes Fact Sheet 2007. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Available online:

Type 2 Diabetes: Definitions

Here is your new vocabulary, in alphabetical order:

  • A1C. The A1C test is the gold standard for tracking how well your blood sugar is controlled. “The A1C blood test is a good indicator of your average glucose over the past three months,” explains Vivian Fonseca, MD, chief of endocrinology at Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. You may also hear this referred to as the hemoglobin A1C test or the glycohemoglobin test. You will have to take this test twice a year.
  • Beta cells. These insulin-making cells are found in the pancreas, the organ in your body that produces insulin.
  • Carbohydrates. These are the primary sources of fuel used by your body to make blood sugar. Carbohydrates are sugars or starches found in foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes, and bread.
  • Gestational diabetes. This is a type of diabetes that is diagnosed during pregnancy and usually goes away after the birth (although it must be controlled during the pregnancy.) Women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, as are their children.
  • Glucose. It’s just another word for the sugar in your blood that provides fuel for your cells. High levels of blood glucose — or blood sugar — are a sign of type 2 diabetes.
  • Hyperglycemia. Another name for high blood sugar. High blood sugar occurs when your blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels are above normal.
  • Hypertension. Another name for high blood pressure.
  • Hypoglycemia. This is low blood sugar (or blood glucose); it occurs when your blood sugar levels drop below normal and your body, because of your diabetes, can’t get back to normal blood sugar levels. This is one of the most commonly misunderstood facts of living with type 2 diabetes, says Paul Robertson, MD, president of medicine and science, American Diabetes Association, and professor of medicine and pharmacology at the University of Washington in Seattle: Hypoglycemia is actually very rare, except as a side effect of some type 2 diabetes treatments. However, your friends and family may worry unduly about your risk of low blood sugar.
  • Insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. It helps your body turn blood glucose into fuel. If your body doesn’t make enough or doesn’t use it efficiently, you develop insulin resistance and then diabetes. Some people with diabetes take insulin to make up for what their body doesn’t produce.
  • Microalbumin. This protein’s presence in your urine may indicate diabetes-related kidney damage.
  • Neuropathy. Neuropathy can be brought on by diabetes. Over time, out-of-control high blood sugar can cause damage to your nervous system, leading to diabetic neuropathy, a weakness or painful sensation in the nerves damaged by diabetes. It can affect your hands, feet, and other organs.
  • Pancreas. This body organ produces insulin.
  • Retinopathy. Over time, high blood sugar can affect the blood flow to your eyes, which can cause the retina to deteriorate, leading to blindness.
  • Type 1 diabetes. A type of diabetes that usually begins at birth or in childhood. With this condition, the person’s pancreas does not make enough insulin to manage blood glucose. This is also called “insulin-dependent diabetes.” People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin to treat their condition.
Type 2 diabetes. It’s also called “adult-onset diabetes,” though increasing numbers are children are now developing it. With this condition, your body isn’t making enough insulin to control your blood sugar levels or can’t use insulin effectively. Although some people have to take medication for type 2 diabetes, many can control their blood sugar levels with changes in diet and exercise.