Conditions InDepth: Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is primarily a disorder in which the cells in the body are not responding to the high levels of insulin (insulin resistance). In some type 2 diabetes, the beta cells are not producing enough insulin.

Insulin is a hormone normally produced by the pancreas. This hormone helps your body convert food into energy. Without insulin, glucose (sugar) from the food you eat cannot enter cells, and glucose builds up in the blood. Your body tissues become starved for energy.

The Pancreas

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Type 2 diabetes, which was formerly called adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. Of the nearly 16 million Americans with diabetes, 70%-95% have type 2 diabetes. People usually develop type 2 diabetes after age 45, but it can occur at any age—even during childhood.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of cases of type 2 diabetes diagnosed in children and adolescents. This has been blamed, in part, on the increase in childhood overweight problems and obesity, resulting from poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles.

Type 2 diabetes occurs because either one or both of the following conditions exist:

  • The beta cells in the pancreas do not make enough insulin relative to the demands of the body.
  • The fat, muscle, or liver cells do not respond to the high levels of insulin (called insulin resistance).

Being overweight or obese, especially in the abdominal area, is the primary cause of insulin resistance and increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

The key to controlling diabetes is keeping your blood sugar level within a healthful range. When your blood sugar level is not within the ideal range, you can experience the following problems:

In the short-term:

  • High blood sugar, called hyperglycemia
  • Low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia

In the long-term:

  • Blindness
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Nerve disease, which can cause numbness, pain, or altered sensation such as a burning feeling in the legs and feet
  • Loss of limbs, when amputations are needed because of infection, poor circulation, or nerve disease
  • Impotence

What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?
What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?
How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?
What are the treatments for type 2 diabetes?
Are there screening tests for type 2 diabetes?
What are the complications of type 2 diabetes?
How can I reduce my risk of type 2 diabetes?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
What is it like to live with type 2 diabetes?
Where can I get more information about type 2 diabetes?


American Diabetes Association website. Available at: . Accessed February 8, 2006.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: . Accessed February 8, 2006.

Last reviewed April 2007 by David Juan, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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