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Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

When your body is working normally, the food you eat is digested and used as fuel. This fuel supplies energy to the body’s cells. When you have diabetes, the fuel can’t enter the cells. Without treatment, diabetes can cause serious long-term health problems.

Outline of person eating sandwich showing liver, pancreas behind stomach, stomach, and small intestine.

Images showing a healthy balance of insulin and glucose in the body vs. insulin resistance

How the body gets energy

The digestive system breaks down food, resulting in a sugar called glucose. Some of this glucose is stored in the liver. But most of it enters the bloodstream and travels to the cells to be used as fuel. Glucose needs the help of a hormone called insulin to enter the cells. Insulin is made in the pancreas. It is released into the bloodstream in response to the presence of glucose in the blood. Think of insulin as a key. When insulin reaches a cell, it attaches to the cell wall. This signals the cell to create an opening that allows glucose to enter the cell.

When you have type 2 diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, your cells don’t respond properly to insulin. Because of this, less glucose than normal moves into cells. This is called insulin resistance. If you are overweight, especially if you carry the extra weight around your middle, you're at increased risk of insulin resistance. And, if you are not active, that also raises the risk.


In response to insulin resistance, the pancreas makes more insulin. But eventually, the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance. As less glucose enters cells, more stays in the blood. This is known as high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. The cells become starved for energy, which can leave you feeling tired and rundown.

Getting insulin to the cells

You may be able to manage type 2 diabetes with healthy eating and increased activity. Or, you may take medicine by mouth (oral medications) to help your body use insulin. And, over time, as the pancreas makes less insulin, you may need insulin shots (injections).

Long term complications

Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels. This can lead to health problems (complications). Keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range (target range) can help prevent or delay complications. Balancing diet and activity, and sometimes taking medications, can help keep blood sugar in your target range and prevent complications. As do regular check-ups, lab tests, and exams. Complications that may occur include:

  • Eye problems

  • Kidney disease

  • Nerve damage

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Tooth and gum problems

  • Skin and foot problems

  • Heart and blood vessel disease


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