What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin as it should or when the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin to ferry glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Instead, the glucose builds up in the blood, resulting in high blood sugar.
When your body can’t use insulin properly, it’s called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is responsible for most cases of type 2 diabetes. Scientists don’t know why cells in the body become resistant to insulin, but it’s clear that certain genetic and lifestyle factors play a role. Here are the most common:
- Your genes. Type 2 diabetes tends to run in families. Scientists haven’t pinpointed the gene or genes responsible for insulin resistance. But even if you inherit certain genes that amp up your risk, it doesn’t mean you will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. How you live your life also affects your risk.
- Your race. Certain racial groups, especially African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than white people.
- Your lifestyle. There’s nothing you can do about the genes you inherit. But you can control how you live. Being overweight is the main risk factor for developing insulin resistance, especially if you carry that extra weight around your waist. Being sedentary, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and consuming a high-fat, low-fiber, sugar-laden diet can all increase your type 2 diabetes risk. You can reduce your risk by adopting healthier habits.
- Your existing health concerns. Other medical issues that can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes include:
- Having prediabetes. Prediabetes means having higher-than-normal blood glucose levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. People with prediabetes who don’t control their blood sugar can go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
- Having gestational diabetes. Women who have gestational diabetes have elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy and are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on. Moms should be tested six to 12 weeks after giving birth to screen for the condition.
- Having another condition linked to type 2 diabetes. Polycystic ovary syndrome, for example, affects women’s sex hormones and is associated with an elevated diabetes risk, as is a history of heart disease or stroke.
Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms
Type 2 diabetes can sneak up on you. Many people don’t know they have it because symptoms usually develop slowly over time. But there are several signs of type 2 diabetes to watch for. Early indicators include increased urination, thirst, and hunger. Over time, excess sugar in the bloodstream can lead to other symptoms, including slow-to-heal wounds and frequent infections. If you develop any of these symptoms of type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor.
- Excessive urination. Running to the bathroom more often than usual or producing more urine than normal (including at night) can be one of the first signs of type 2 diabetes. Excessive urination, also called polyuria, occurs when blood sugar levels are too high. The kidneys have to work overtime to filter the excess sugar out of your blood, and some of it gets flushed out of the body in your urine.
- Increased thirst. Excessive thirst, also called polydipsia, is another classic sign of type 2 diabetes. When your blood glucose is higher than normal, excess sugar spills into your urine, pulling water with it, and you have to urinate more frequently. You can become dehydrated from all that extra urination, so you then become thirsty, leading you to drink even more–and urinate more.
- Increased hunger. When you are insulin resistant or don’t make enough insulin, glucose can’t enter your cells. Starved for energy, you get hungrier than usual. Excessive hunger or increased appetite is also known as polyphagia.
- Blurred vision. High blood sugar can cause the lens of the eye to swell, causing blurry vision. If your blood sugar levels fluctuate, you may notice at least a temporary improvement when sugar levels are closer to normal.
- Unexplained weight loss. Sudden or unplanned weight loss can be a sign that your cells aren’t getting glucose for energy. Without that sugar for fuel, your body begins burning fat and muscle instead, leading to weight loss.
- Fatigue. When blood sugar is elevated, that fuel can’t get to its destination. As a result, your energy lags, and you feel depleted. You may not be sleeping well, either, if you make frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom to empty your bladder.
- Frequent infections. Yeast and bacteria thrive on sugar, so when blood glucose levels are abnormally high, there’s a greater risk for frequent or more severe yeast or urinary tract infections.
- Slow-healing wounds. People with type 2 diabetes may find that it takes a long time for skin injuries to heal. That’s because sugary blood is thicker and moves more slowly, especially through narrow blood vessels, meaning healing blood and oxygen takes longer to reach damaged tissue. Having open sores and wounds also boosts the risk for infections.
- Dry, itchy skin. Everyone gets dry skin, but itchy feet, ankles, or legs could be signs of type 2 diabetes if you have other symptoms too. Fluid loss due to frequent urination plus poor circulation and nerve damage due to thick, sugary blood can dry out your skin, especially on your lower extremities.
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