What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Lesson 1

You’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and you’re wondering what the condition is about and how it’s going to affect your life. Well, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is not the end of the world but the beginning of a new way of life. You just need to learn what it takes to enjoy your journey in the new world you’ve found yourself.

But what exactly is this condition? Type 2 diabetes is a chronic medical condition in which the body cells find it difficult to take up and utilize the sugar (glucose) in your blood. So, the sugar you consume in each meal builds up in your bloodstream, leading to high blood glucose levels.

Since glucose is an important source of energy for your body cells, the lack of it in the cells — despite being plentiful in the bloodstream — makes the cells to look for any means of generating energy, and in the process, trigger the symptoms of the condition and even make the situation worse.

For example, energy-starved brain cells would trigger hunger pangs causing you to eat more, which leads to more sugar building up in your bloodstream. When your sugar levels stay high for a long time, it could produce harmful substances (like glycated proteins) that damage the blood vessels in many organs and bring about most of the long-term complications of the condition. Also, in trying to break down fats for energy, the cells produce acidic substances like ketones, which are usually involved in some of the acute complications of the condition — diabetic ketoacidosis.

Most of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes — such as increased hunger, excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections, poor wound healing, numbness in your toes, foot pain, dark patches in the armpits and neck, and others — arise from prolonged glucose accumulation in the blood and your cells attempt to source energy by all means.

Now, that you’ve known what the condition is, let’s take a look at how it develops.

How does type 2 diabetes come about?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. The condition arises when your body cannot use insulin properly because it has become resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas — an organ in your body — which enables your cells to take up glucose from our blood. It is secreted when the blood glucose level rises, to help push the sugar into the cells.

If your body is resistant to insulin, your cells cannot take up glucose from the blood despite an adequate level of insulin in the blood, as the hormone is no longer able to stimulate them. As blood sugar levels increase, your body would release more insulin to try and force the sugar into the cells. With time, the insulin-producing cells get weakened and unable to produce adequate insulin to meet your body's needs. At this stage, you would become dependent on external insulin.

It is not clear what causes your cells to become resistant to insulin, but your genes and other acquired factors, such as obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, could play a major role. Let’s look at those predisposing factors.

What could have predisposed you to type 2 diabetes?

These are some of the factors that might have predisposed you to type 2 diabetes:

  • Any of your parents or siblings may have the condition, as the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases when there is a family history of the condition.
  • Your age may also be a factor since the risk of developing the condition is higher among older people.
  • For some yet-to-be-understood reasons, you are more likely to develop the condition if you’re of African, Hispanic, Asian-American, or American Indian origin.
  • If you are not adequately active, you have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes because being physically active increases your cells’ sensitivity to insulin, helps you to burn sugar and fat, and helps control your weight.
  • Being obese or overweight increases the risk of having insulin resistance, the precursor for type 2 diabetes.
  • The way your body fat is distributed may increase your risk of developing the condition — if you store more fat in the abdomen than anywhere else, your risk is higher.
  • If you smoke, live a sedentary lifestyle, or are chronically stressed, you have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • You’re at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have Type A personality because you’re more prone to stress.
  • Some medical conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, gestational diabetes, and prediabetes, puts you at a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • The use of steroids also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

What you need to look out for

Type 2 diabetes can affect any system in your body, and if it is not well managed, the complications can develop really fast. So, look out for signs of complications:

  • Blurred vision, which indicates damage to the eyes
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Numbness, tingling sensations, or burning pains
  • Reduced urine volume, which implies that the kidneys are being affected
  • Delayed wound healing and skin infections

Make sure you report any new findings to your doctor anytime you go for your regular clinical visits and be sure to keep to your doctor’s appointments. You should monitor your blood glucose levels as often as your doctor tells you and present the record during your visit to the doctor.

Your doctor will normally check for signs of complications and from time to time, run some tests to know the state of your body systems. Some of those tests include urine albumin to know the state of your kidneys, fasting lipid profile to check the levels of unhealthy fats in your blood, and of course, glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) to know your how well your blood glucose levels have been in the past three months.