Getting started with type 2 diabetes

If you’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, here’s what you need to know to get started:

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes (also known as diabetes mellitus type 2) is a chronic condition in which the level of sugar in your blood is too high – This is why if you’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes you have to control your diet and make some lifestyle changes.

In essence, it's a problem with the hormones your body produces. Your body needs insulin (a hormone) to break down sugar, but is either not producing enough of it, or your cells aren’t responding well to it.

And it’s really common – over 14% of Indians have type 2 diabetes.

If you’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, here’s what you need to know to get started:

What causes type 2 diabetes?

The cause of type 2 diabetes is rooted in your body’s ability to create and use insulin.

Insulin is produced in your pancreas. It’s made by special beta cells which secrete it when high levels of sugar (glucose) are detected in the blood, and its job is to break down this glucose to give you energy.

With type 2 diabetes, your body becomes insulin resistant – Your body's cells stop responding to insulin as they're supposed to and can’t absorb glucose.

As time goes on, your body may stop producing insulin altogether. This happens when the beta cells in your pancreas stop reacting to glucose.

Scientists still aren't 100% sure what causes the cells in our bodies to become insulin resistant. However, there are a lot of known factors which may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes:

  1. Obesity Being overweight doesn't guarantee you’ll get type 2 diabetes, but it increases your chances. If the fat in your body is largely visceral fat (which is the fat that surrounds your abdomen and vital organs), you’re at even higher risk.
  2. Physical inactivity – When you’re physically active, your body is encouraged to make good use of the glucose in your bloodstream. When you’re not physically active the opposite may happen, and your body could begin to break down glucose poorly.
  3. Stress – When you’re stressed, your body produces other hormones that can affect glucose levels in the blood. Prolonged stress, leading to extended periods of high blood sugar levels, can start to affect your cells’ sensitivity to insulin.
  4. Smoking Nicotine reduces the effectiveness of insulin, and this means your body has to create more and more of it in order to keep breaking down the glucose in your bloodstream.
  5. Too little sleep – If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may start to suffer from oxidative stress (an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals). This can affect hormones like insulin and cortisol that control your blood sugar levels.
  6. Age – The older you get, the less effective your body becomes at producing and responding to insulin. This in turn puts you at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  7. Medical history – If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, you’re at greater risk of contracting the disease yourself. Hypertension and cardiovascular disease can also make the symptoms of type 2 diabetes worse.
  8. Ethnicity – Studies have shown that ethnicity can be a factor in developing type 2 diabetes. The research suggests that Hispanic, African and Asian ethnicities are at higher risk.
  9. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – PCOS can often lead to insulin resistance. In fact, almost 77% of women in India with PCOS develop insulin resistance, so it’s important if you have PCOS that you test for type 2 diabetes.

Remember though, these are just the high-risk factors. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of type 2 diabetes, you should get yourself tested for it – even if none of these factors apply to you.

What is the difference between type 1 and 2 diabetes?

There are a few different types of diabetes, though the most common are type 1 and 2 diabetes. What is the difference between type 1 and 2 diabetes?

In a nutshell, it all comes down to the pancreas, and your ability to produce insulin.

If you’re a type 1 diabetic, your pancreas has either stopped producing insulin or is producing just a small amount. This is because the beta cells which make your insulin have been damaged – they’ve been attacked by your own body, making type 1 diabetes an auto-immune disease.

If you’re a type 2 diabetic however, your pancreas is still producing insulin as usual, but your cells simply aren’t responding to it the way they should. This is known as "insulin resistance". It’s typically caused by the levels of glucose in your blood remaining high for a long period of time, leading your cells to lose sensitivity to insulin.

The cause of type 1 diabetes isn’t 100% understood.

Type 2 diabetes on the other hand is usually acquired based on a person’s lifestyle and environment, and often runs in families.

What now?

Now that you understand what type 2 diabetes is, and what causes it, it’s time to think about how to live with it:

  • Understand the symptoms – What are the signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect you could have type 2 diabetes?
  • Know the treatment – What do you need to do in order to treat type 2 diabetes? What medications and treatments do you need to know about?
  • Learn to live with it – What does having type 2 diabetes mean for you and your lifestyle? How will a type 2 diabetes diagnosis affect your diet, exercise program, and self-care regime?

There are a lot of things to consider and get to grips with, but the main thing to remember is that type 2 diabetes is not a death sentence. It will likely have an impact on how you live, but you can still have a happy and healthy lifestyle.

And it starts with getting informed, staying active, and keeping a positive mindset.

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