Type 2 diabetes – what's going on in your body?

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body gradually stops making enough insulin and becomes less able to use the insulin it does make effectively. With too little insulin, your body cannot absorb glucose from the food you eat and your blood glucose levels rise and become harmful to your health.

Understanding the connection between insulin, blood glucose and your average blood glucose levels over time – also known as HbA1c – is an important first step towards controlling type 2 diabetes.


What does insulin do?

Insulin is a hormone released by your pancreas when you eat. Its job is to help your body absorb glucose from food so it can be used for energy. This means that when your insulin levels go up, your blood glucose levels go down.

If your body cannot produce or use insulin properly, your blood glucose levels stay high, and you may need medication to bring them back into a healthy range. Oral medications can help while your body still produces some insulin, but most people will eventually need to add insulin injections to control their blood glucose.? ?

What does insulin do?

Why is high blood glucose dangerous?

High blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia) damage your blood vessels. This can reduce the supply of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your body's organs and nerves and, over time, cause serious health complications.

Controlling your blood glucose levels will help you avoid complications like:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke Reduced eyesight, blindness
  • Kidney disease
  • Nerve problems
  • Blocked circulation in the feet
  • Gangrene Leg amputations

Is low blood glucose dangerous?

People with diabetes who are on medication, especially insulin therapy, need to be aware of the signs of low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia or 'a hypo'). Medications can sometimes make blood glucose drop too low. This can be dangerous and you need to know what to do if it happens.?

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Learn more about type 2 diabetes and hypoglycaemia

The signs of hypoglycaemia are:

  • Shakiness or feeling weak
  • Sweating, chills and clamminess
  • Confusion
  • Rapid/fast heartbeat
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Nervousness, anxiety or irritability

Know how to treat a hypo!

It's important to act immediately if you notice the symptoms of a hypo, otherwise you could start feeling tired and confused, and may even lose consciousness. Treat a hypo by eating or drinking 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate, for instance:

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  • Pure fruit juice
  • A sugary (non-diet) drink
  • Hard candies, jelly beans or gumdrops
  • Glucose tablets
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Always carry something to help you treat a hypo. If you are unsure about what a hypo feels like, or how to treat one, please seek advice from your healthcare professional. As time goes on, you’ll become more familiar with what high and low blood glucose feels like, and what to do about it.

Why is HbA1c important?

HbA1c is a measure of your blood glucose levels over the last two to three months. Your healthcare professional will perform a blood test to measure your HbA1c and use this to set a target blood glucose range for you.

If you have type 2 diabetes, every 1% drop in HbA1c reduces your risk of complications. The HbA1c target ranges for people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are shown on the right.

Why is HbA1c important?

Living with type 2 diabetes

A type 2 diagnosis doesn't mean you should expect less out of life. But you will need to learn how to manage your blood glucose for different situations and activities so you can stay healthy and active. We have lots of information and resources to help you get started.

Get tips for living well with type 2 diabetes

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