You have Type 2 diabetes. Perhaps you’ve had it for a while. But how much do you really know about diabetes, how it affects your body and what you can do to thrive with the condition? Read on to find out.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes Anyway?
Diabetes is diagnosed when your blood glucose (or “blood sugar”) level is above normal. According to the American Diabetes Association, a diagnosis of diabetes is made when one’s average blood sugar level over two to three months is 6.5% or greater (normal is less than 5.7%; the range between is considered “prediabetes”), as measured by a hemoglobin A1C blood test. Blood glucose tests can also be used to diagnose diabetes. When fasting glucose is equal to or greater than 126 mg/dL or the result of a random glucose check is 200 mg/dL or greater, diabetes is diagnosed.
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
There are several risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Being overweight—particularly if you tend to carry extra weight around your middle—puts you at an increased risk. So does living an inactive lifestyle. People older than 45 tend to have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but younger adults—and even children— are also developing the disease. For reasons that aren't completely understood, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native Americans have a higher risk than people of other races—and having a family member (parent or sibling) with diabetes increases your chances of developing the disease.
How Does Diabetes Affect Your Body?
First, let’s take a step back to get a basic understanding of glucose and insulin. Glucose—a simple sugar that remains when your body digests food—is the main source of energy for your body's cells. After you eat, the glucose from your food enters your bloodstream. In response, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps your cells use glucose for energy.
But when you have Type 2 diabetes your cells have stopped being able to use the insulin your pancreas is making, so you’re not able to use glucose for energy the way your body needs you to. (This often is called “insulin resistance.”) What’s more, your pancreas may not be making enough insulin. So here’s what happens: Glucose continues to flow through the bloodstream but cannot be used by your cells.
Over time, the amount of glucose in your blood increases yet the cells don't get the energy they need. Eventually the signs and symptoms of diabetes may set in. Classic diabetes symptoms include increased thirst, increased hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, fatigue, frequent urination and frequent infections and/or slow-healing cuts or sores. But many people with type 2 diabetes don't show any symptoms of having the disease and don’t know anything is wrong until they are diagnosed. Maybe this was your experience. Maybe not.
No matter what your past relationship with diabetes is, it’s important to take control now, as doing so can help reduce the risk of complications such as nerve problems, heart and blood vessel disease, eye damage and kidney disease that can result from years of untreated high blood sugar.
The Big Benefits of Diabetes Management
Achieving good blood sugar control and reducing the risk of complications means consistently managing your diabetes by keeping in close contact with your medical team, taking medications as prescribed, following a healthy eating plan, being physically active, working to manage your weight and regularly monitoring your glucose levels. But with good blood sugar control, a long and healthy life with type 2 diabetes is possible.