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What Does Type 2 Diabetes Progression Mean?

Type 2 diabetes is considered a progressive disease. This means it is a condition that gets worse over time. Type 2 diabetes does not just happen in a single day. It progresses over months and years. If left untreated, it can make a person sicker and sicker.

Recent statistics report that 34.2 million people in the United States – about 1 in 10 people – have diabetes. While studies show that new diabetes cases are decreasing in adults, type 2 diabetes is increasing in people under the age of 20. Meanwhile, 88 million people in the United States currently have what is known as “prediabetes.”1

What is prediabetes?

A person with prediabetes has higher-than-normal blood sugar levels. However, these levels are not quite high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Put simply, prediabetes means a person is at risk of developing diabetes but they have not developed it yet.2

People with prediabetes should work with their doctor to get their blood sugar levels under control. This is done through diet, exercise, and, in some cases, medicine. With care and support, there is still time to delay – and even prevent – a diabetes diagnosis.2

But it can be hard to know if you even have prediabetes. That is because the symptoms – like fatigue or increased thirst – are not entirely obvious. More often than not, type 2 diabetes first starts as prediabetes.2

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What factors contribute to type 2 diabetes progression?

Typically, type 2 diabetes starts with a gradual decline in beta (β) cell function. β-cells are responsible for making insulin. They also control the body’s blood glucose levels. High blood glucose levels are a key sign of both prediabetes and diabetes. When there is a loss of β-cell function, the body becomes resistant to insulin. This puts you at risk for high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).3

There are several factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes progression. These factors also affect each person differently.

For instance, someone newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes might require insulin treatment right away. Or, a person may have managed their diabetes with diet and exercise for years, but all of a sudden they need to take diabetes medicine.

Researchers do not know exactly why type 2 diabetes progresses differently in people. For example, younger people with type 2 diabetes tend to have a quicker disease progression than older people.3

However, there are clear risk factors that are linked to prediabetes turning into diabetes:3

  • High body mass index (BMI)
  • Weight gain
  • Younger age
  • High plasma insulin
  • High blood pressure

What are the health risks of type 2 diabetes progression?

There are many known health risks when type 2 diabetes progresses, including:3,4

  • Eye and vision problems
  • Foot problems
  • Nerve damage
  • Heart and liver-related disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

How can you treat type 2 diabetes?

Just like the progression of the disease, treatment for type 2 diabetes also varies from person to person. Some are able to manage their diabetes by monitoring their blood sugar levels, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of exercise. Others may need to rely on daily insulin drugs.

Understanding how type 2 diabetes progresses and why people are affected differently can improve treatment options for people at every stage of the disease. A better understanding means more efficient, personalized treatment options.

Dealing with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis can be scary. Having a supportive network of family, friends, and doctors can help you cope.

Looking for more information about living with type 2 diabetes?

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