If you have type 2 diabetes, this means that over time, your body is making less insulin and you are unable to use the insulin that you do make effectively. This is called insulin resistance and it happens over months or years.
The body needs insulin to absorb sugar from the food you eat. Not being able to make enough insulin or use it properly can lead to high blood sugar levels which can be dangerous to your health.
Insulin is a hormone (chemical signal) which is released by your pancreas when you eat, signalling your body to absorb the sugar. Without insulin, the sugar stays in the bloodstream where it can cause damage.
If too much sugar stays in the blood, it can cause damage to the blood vessels. This means that nerves and organs of the body may not receive enough blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients, and over a long time this can cause problems like nerve damage, eye damage and kidney damage, as well as heart problems and stroke.
When your blood sugar is really high, it also interferes with the pancreas that makes the insulin – too much sugar in the insulin-making cells, or beta cells, of the pancreas makes them less able to produce the insulin you need.
Type 2 diabetes starts slowly and progresses gradually over time. At first, you could be diagnosed with “pre-diabetes”, which means that your sugar levels are higher than normal and you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Once you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may not be prescribed any medicine at first. In the early stages, or if you have pre-diabetes, you can control your blood sugar by changing your lifestyle – eating healthily and doing more physical activity for example. However, as type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, almost everyone who is diagnosed will need some other type of treatment.
There are lots of types available: tablets can help but when the body cannot make enough insulin, insulin therapy will need to be added. Many people with type 2 diabetes will eventually need insulin to help their body absorb sugar and control their blood sugar levels. The time it takes to get to this stage is different for everyone and could be many years.
Our treating type 2 diabetes section has more information on the different treatments available to help.
The important thing to remember is that getting your blood sugar to your target levels is the best way to avoid damage to your health later in life.