Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition where the body cannot properly use and store glucose (sugar) from the food we eat. This leads to high blood sugar levels, which can cause damage to organs and nerves over time. Early signs of type 2 diabetes are mild and include frequent urination, increased thirst, and fatigue.
This is a long-term condition of high glucose levels that leads to disorders of the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems. Type 2 diabetes is known as adult-onset diabetes which can occur both during childhood and adulthood.
Type 2 diabetes is commonly seen in adults over age 45 but, more children and young adults with obesity have been shown to have type 2 diabetes. The problem with this condition is that your pancreas does not produce enough insulin and the cells are not able to respond to insulin well and so take in less sugar.
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), more than 37 million Americans have diabetes, which is 11.3% of the US population. Approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes.
In this article, we will look at the early signs and symptoms, diagnostic tests and risk factors for developing this condition. There is no cure for type 2 diabetes but changing and managing lifestyle and habits can help manage the disease such as eating well, losing weight and exercising. For serious diabetic people, medications or insulin therapy is recommended when diet or exercise is not enough to manage your blood sugar levels.
Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
Early signs of type 2 diabetes are mild and difficult to notice because the symptoms don’t make you feel unwell. Symptoms include:
- Polyuria or frequent urination occurs due to high levels of glucose which cannot be absorbed and so glucose enters the urine.
- Polydipsia or increased thirst happens due to increased urine glucose and water losses.
- Polyphagia or regular hunger occurs due to decreased insulin levels and decreased movement of glucose in the bloodstream.
- Fatigue happens due to more levels of glucose in the body with lower levels of insulin sensitivity.
- Weight loss occurs due to low glucose levels being moved in the bloodstream.
- Blurry vision happens due to increased glucose levels which cause the swelling of the eye lens.
- Increased infections occur due to high glucose levels being a source of yeast infections.
- Paresthesias or numbness in the hands or feet happens because high glucose levels damage neurons or nerve endings.
- Delayed wound healing occurs due to high blood sugar levels damaging the nerves and blood vessels.
If you have or suspect that anyone else may have these symptoms then contact a medical professional. If you see dark rashes around your armpits, neck or pubic area, visit your doctor as this is a sign that your body is becoming resistant to insulin, a condition called acanthosis nigricans. If left unmanaged, type 2 diabetes can lead to serious complications so it is important to take good care of your health and seek help sooner than later.
Common Causes and Risk Factors
Insulin is made by your pancreas which helps turn glucose into energy. People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin but their cells don’t respond to insulin. So when your pancreas makes more insulin than your body can keep up, your blood sugar level rises which causes damaging effects to the body.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of factors which includes:
- Genes where different parts of DNA affect how your body makes insulin and is linked to family history.
- Obesity causes insulin resistance to different parts of DNA to affect how your body makes insulin.
- Metabolic syndrome is a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity which affects insulin sensitivity.
- High glucose is released from the liver when your blood sugar level is low but, after you eat, your sugar level goes up which slows down your liver storing glucose for later.
There are certain risk factors that may increase your risk of disease development which includes:
- Living an inactive lifestyle
- Being above 45 years of age
- Having an unbalanced diet
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome or gestational diabetes
- Having heart disease or stroke
- Having higher levels of triglycerides
- Having prediabetes
- Certain ethnicities such as African American, Alaska Native, Native American, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino, or Pacific Islander American
Diagnosis and Tests for Type 2 Diabetes
Blood or urine tests are usually used to test for type 2 diabetes. Visit a general physician about your symptoms to check your blood sugar level which takes about 1-2 days for the results to come back.
Your doctor can test your blood sugar levels in one of the following ways:
- A1c blood test finds out the average of your blood glucose level over the past 2 or 3 months.
- A fasting blood glucose test measures your blood sugar on an empty stomach where you can’t eat or drink anything for at least 8 hours beforehand, except for water.
- An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) checks blood glucose before and after 2 hours of you drinking something sweet to check how your body handles the sugar.
Complications (Associated health problems)
Over time high blood sugar levels can cause other complications if not checked regularly and managed. Complications or other associated health problems include:
- Heart disease or stroke is five times more likely to occur
- Atherosclerosis that are blocked blood vessels or chest pain called angina
- Kidney failure
- Retinopathy that may cause blindness
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) can cause digestive problems and sexual difficulties
- Foot problems like infections and sores
- Slow wound healing
- Miscarriage or stillbirth can occur during pregnancies
- Hearing difficulties
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Sleep apnea where breathing stops and starts
Treatments for Type 2 Diabetes
You will need to check your blood sugar levels regularly to manage your diabetes. To manage your diabetes, you will need a mixture of lifestyle changes and medications.
Lifestyle changes include:
- Healthy eating by having a regular schedule for meals that are more fiber-rich with fewer calories.
- Physical activity such as walking, swimming, cycling or running.
- Weight loss reduction exercises.
- Monitoring your blood sugar levels frequently.
If diet and exercise alone do not help regulate your blood sugar levels then your doctor will prescribe you medications to help lower insulin levels.
- Metformin is usually the first medication prescribed for type 2 diabetes. It helps lower the glucose levels made by your liver and makes the body respond to insulin better.
- Sulfonylureas help to make more insulin which includes glimepiride (Amaryl), glipizide (Glucotrol, Metaglip), and glyburide (DiaBeta, Micronase).
- Meglitinides also help your body make more insulin and work faster than sulfonylureas such as nateglinide (Starlix) or repaglinide (Prandin).
- Thiazolidinediones are like metformin that helps with insulin sensitivity such as pioglitazone (Actos) or rosiglitazone (Avandia).
- DPP-4 inhibitors help lower blood sugar levels such as linagliptin (Tradjenta), saxagliptin (Onglyza), and sitagliptin (Januvia).
- GLP-1 receptor agonists are taken with a needle to lower blood sugar levels and slow down your digestion such as exenatide (Byetta, Bydureon), liraglutide (Victoza), and semaglutide (Ozempic).
- SGLT2 inhibitors help filter out more glucose from the kidneys such as canagliflozin (Invokana), dapagliflozin (Farxiga), or empagliflozin (Jardiance).
- Insulin shots can be taken at night such as insulin detemir (Levemir) or insulin glargine (Lantus).
Diabetes is a progressive disease that may get worse over time even if you change your lifestyle and take medications regularly. In such cases, you will need to adjust your therapy according to what your doctor recommends. Be sure to consult your doctor if you see any side effects such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or weight gain.
Your doctor might prescribe you other medications along with diabetes medicines to manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease. Taking more than one drug is called combination therapy which is in the case of severely diabetic patients.
Having a supportive team of people who understand what it is like to live with type 2 diabetes will help your overall well-being. You can build your own healthcare team with professionals that include:
- Diabetes educators
Checking your blood sugar levels regularly helps prevent associated conditions from occurring. Other checkups include:
- Checking your feet for ulcers, infections and numbness.
- Checking your eyes for damage to the blood vessels.
- Checking for high blood pressure, kidney or heart disease.
Some reminders to avoid dealing with complications that come with type 2 diabetes include:
- Taking your medications on time
- Keeping someone who can help check on you
- Eating and exercising regularly
How is Type 1 different from Type 2?
The CDCTrusted Source states several differences between type 1 and types 2 diabetes:
|Type 1 Diabetes (Juvenile diabetes)
Type 2 Diabetes (Insulin-resistant diabetes)
|Onset of symptoms
|Quick development of symptoms
|Takes many years for symptoms to develop
|Body stops making insulin
|Body makes insulin but, is not enough and so is not used efficiently
|Prevalence in the U.S
|Genetic or family history
|Obesity, high blood pressure and family history
|Can be diagnosed at any age but, children, teens and young adults are usually diagnosed with type 1 diabetes
|Doctors usually diagnose it in adults, but they are increasingly diagnoses are seen in children, teens and young adults
|Daily insulin is required
|A combination of insulin, medications, and diet is required
|No specific prevention method
|Healthy lifestyle changes help reduce onset of symptoms
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Before you visit your doctor, there are some important questions you can keep in your mind to manage your healthcare routine. Questions you should ask your doctor include:
- What is my target range and how often should I check my blood sugar levels?
- Should I make any changes to my diet to help manage my blood sugar?
- What should my weight be to have a healthy sugar level?
- Should I visit other doctors to check for other health complications related to my diabetes condition?
- What is the dose for my prescribed medicines and are there any alternative medications if my medicine is not available?
- Will my family members also have diabetes as I do?
- Under what conditions I will be needing to call you in case of an emergency?
Type 2 diabetes is a common disease that affects your blood sugar levels. Early signs include frequent hunger, thirst and urine, fatigue, blurry vision and weight loss.
If you or anyone you know experiences these symptoms then contact a medical professional for an evaluation. Early detection and treatment of the disease will help reduce any other health complications and help live a better quality of life.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, ask your doctor to help guide you to manage the disease. It may not be easy but, you live a long and healthy life by managing your blood sugar levels through lifestyle changes and medications.
The best way to manage your blood sugar levels is by controlling them and having regular diabetes checkups. You have the power to manage your own health, and stay consistent.
FAQ Type 2 Diabetes
Q: What are the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes?
A: Some common symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, increased thirst, fatigue, blurred vision, slow healing of wounds, and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. However, some people with Type 2 diabetes may not experience any symptoms.
Q: What causes Type 2 diabetes?
A: Type 2 diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors, including being overweight or obese, having a sedentary lifestyle, having a family history of diabetes, and aging.
Q: How is Type 2 diabetes diagnosed?
A: Type 2 diabetes is typically diagnosed through a blood test that measures your blood sugar levels. Your doctor may also conduct other tests, such as a hemoglobin A1C test or a glucose tolerance test.
Q: How is Type 2 diabetes treated?
A: Type 2 diabetes can be treated through lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise, as well as medication. Medications used to treat Type 2 diabetes include oral medications that help the body use insulin more effectively, injectable medications that stimulate the production of insulin, and insulin therapy.
Q: Can Type 2 diabetes be prevented?
A: While some risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, such as genetics and aging, cannot be changed, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can help prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and staying physically active are all important for preventing Type 2 diabetes.
Q: What are the long-term complications of Type 2 diabetes?
A: Long-term complications of Type 2 diabetes can include damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels, which can lead to blindness, kidney failure, neuropathy, and cardiovascular disease.
Q: Is Type 2 diabetes reversible?
A: While Type 2 diabetes is not curable, it can be managed and even reversed through lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and regular exercise. However, medication may still be needed to manage blood sugar levels.
- https://nationaldppcsc.cdc.gov/s/article/CDC-2022-National-Diabetes-Statistics-Report#:~:text=The%20Centers%20for%20Disease%20 Control,prediabetes%20in%20the%20United%20States.
- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/metabolic-syndrome/#:~:text=Metabolic%20syndrome%20is%20the%20 medical,that%20effect%20the%20blood%20 vessels.
is a registered dietitian with over 10 years of experience in the field of nutrition. She has a Master’s degree in Nutritional Science from Dhaka University and has worked with various clients to help them achieve their health goals through personalized diet plans. Mounota is passionate about educating people on the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle and has written extensively on the subject for various publications.