Type 2 diabetes — A silent presence

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that occurs when there is a consistently high level of sugar (glucose) in the blood. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), nearly 16 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. More surprising is that about one-third of those people don’t know that they have the disease.

There are a few reasons for this. First, most people don’t know if they’re at risk for type 2 diabetes. Second, many people with type 2 diabetes are asymptomatic — that is, although they have the disease and it may be progressing, they don’t have any noticeable symptoms. Third, it’s common to misinterpret diabetes symptoms. For example, excess thirst, frequent urination, lack of energy, weight loss and even blurred vision come on gradually and might be attributed to the aging process, when in fact they’re classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes disease progression.

Who gets diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes has a strong genetic link — it tends to “run in the family.” Type 2 diabetes often affects people who are overweight or obese, and over 45 years old — although the rate is increasing in younger people. Some other type 2 risk factors include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • History of gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes occurring during pregnancy
  • Giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
  • Ethnicity: African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders

Special considerations for ethnic populations

Although anyone of any race, gender or ethnicity can be at risk for diabetes, there is a higher incidence in people within certain ethnic groups. For example:

  • African-Americans: Twice as likely as non-Latino whites (that is, Caucasians) to have diabetes — 25% of African-American women over 55 have the disease.
  • Native Americans: Over 12% aged 19 or older have type 2 diabetes. In one Arizona tribe, 50% of adults between the ages of 30 and 64 have the disease.
  • Mexican Americans: About 24% in the U.S. have diabetes.
  • Puerto Ricans: 26% between the ages of 45 and 74 have diabetes.

In addition, people in these groups are more likely to develop serious diabetes-related complications, like heart disease, blindness, lower-limb amputation and kidney failure.

The role of sugar and insulin in diabetes

Your body converts most of the food you eat into sugar. Sugar supplies the energy your body needs to do what it needs to do. Insulin, a hormone that’s made by your pancreas, sends a signal telling your body’s cells to let sugar in from the bloodstream. Once in the cells, the sugar provides the energy your body needs to work. With type 2 diabetes, your body simply isn’t able to use that sugar the way it should.

Type 2 diabetes develops when either the body can’t make enough insulin, or when the cells don’t always “listen” to the insulin and won’t let enough sugar in. This is called “insulin resistance.” Either way, too much sugar is left in the bloodstream. If left unchecked, having too much sugar in the bloodstream can lead to diabetes and related complications.

Identifying type 1 and type 2 diabetes

For about 1 in 10 people with diabetes, the pancreas has completely stopped making insulin. This is type 1 diabetes. No insulin means no messages are being sent to the