Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects how your body processes blood sugar (glucose). If you have type 2 diabetes, this means your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or it can’t use the insulin it has.

Our bodies use glucose—or sugar—for energy. Insulin allows the cells in our body to process glucose. If your body doesn’t have enough insulin, glucose can collect in your blood. This causes high blood sugar.

There’s no cure for type 2 diabetes. People with this disease will need to manage it with medication, diet, and exercise for the rest of their life. The reason doctors call diabetes a “chronic” disease is because it is a long-term health problem that can’t be cured or prevented with medication.

Type 2 diabetes is also called adult onset diabetes. It’s also the most common kind of diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes Causes

Doctors and researchers don’t know exactly causes type 2 diabetes. Some families have higher rates of the disease. But lifestyle factors like poor diet, obesity, and not exercising enough increase your chances of developing the disease. Some medications also may increase your chances of getting it.

Risk Factors For Type 2 Diabetes

A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting a certain kind of disease. There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes. This means that if you have or do any of these things, you have a higher chance of getting type 2 diabetes.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include the following:

  • Having a history of diabetes in your family
  • Being overweight
  • Age. People who are older than 45 have a higher chance of developing diabetes.
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Being pregnant
  • Race and ethnicity. Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and American Indians have higher chances of developing type 2 diabetes than white Americans.
  • Having a baby who weighed more than nine pounds when he/she was born.
  • Being a smoker
  • Having a high triglyceride level
  • Having low levels of HDL. HDL is high-density lipoprotein, also known as the “good cholesterol”

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Symptoms can be different for each person. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Being more thirsty than normal
  • Having frequent bladder or skin infections that take a long time to heal
  • Urinating (peeing) frequently
  • Losing weight even though you’re hungrier than usual
  • Having blurry vision
  • Being nauseous or vomiting
  • Feeling very weak and tired
  • Feeling irritable
  • Having changes in your mood
  • Having dry, itchy skin
  • Losing feeling in your hands or feet or having tingling

Type 2 diabetes can be hard to detect because some people don’t have any symptoms. Other people have only mild symptoms that are barely noticeable. In the US, half of people who have diabetes don’t even know they have it.

People can also mistake symptoms of type 2 diabetes for other health problems. Be sure to see your doctor for a correct diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Doctors use many tests to diagnose type 2 diabetes. It’s best if you retake the tests a second time to make sure your diagnosis is correct.

Hemoglobin A1C. This test measures your average blood sugar levels during the last two to three months. If your A1C is more than 6.5%, you have diabetes.

Fasting plasma glucose (FPG). FPG checks your blood sugar levels after you haven’t eaten for eight hours (called fasting). Most people take this test before eating their first meal of the day. Doctors call this test your fasting blood glucose level. If your fasting blood glucose is higher than or equal to 126 mg/dl, you have type 2 diabetes. 

Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). Doctors measure your blood sugar level before and two hours after you have a sugary drink. The OGTT test lets your doctor know how well your body uses glucose. If your blood sugar level is 200 mg/dl or more after you had the sugary drink, you have type 2 diabetes.

Random glucose test. Doctors can give you a random glucose test during any time of the day. If your blood sugar level is 200 mg/dl or more, and if you have hyperglycemia symptoms or hyperglycemic crisis, then you have type 2 diabetes.

Treatment

Doctors think about several things when developing a treatment plan for patients with diabetes. To find the best treatment for you, your doctor will consider the following things:

  • Your age
  • Your overall health and health history
  • Your reaction to medications, procedures, or treatments
  • Your opinions and preferences about treatment

The goal of any type of diabetes treatment is to make sure blood sugar levels stay close to normal. It’s important that blood sugar levels don’t dip too low or raise too high. To keep blood sugar levels as normal as possible, you will need to:

  • exercise regularly,
  • eat a healthy diet,
  • and get regular check-ups.

Some people can control their type 2 diabetes without medication by losing weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. Other people will need to take oral or injection medications or take insulin.

You will also need to be sure to check your feet a few times a week.

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy changes to your lifestyle can go a long way in managing your diabetes. Exercise plays an important role. Be sure to get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week—and don’t let more than two days go by without exercising. Losing just five to seven percent of your body weight can help keep your blood sugar levels more healthy.

If you sit for long amounts of time, stand up every 30 minutes to get some light activity.

Medications & Insulin

Your doctor may recommend oral medicines, medicines by injection, or insulin replacement therapy. It’s important to take the medication your doctor recommends. 

Different medicines can treat type 2 diabetes. Patients can choose from many different kinds of oral medicines (usually pills). Each type works in a different way to lower blood sugar. Some doctors recommend that patients combine medications to better control their blood sugar. If oral medicines stop working, you may need insulin injections.

Blood Sugar Level Monitoring

Doctors recommend that people with type 2 diabetes test their hemoglobin A1C levels at least once every six months if blood sugar level is stable and is in a healthy range.

If your blood sugar level is unstable, you should check your A1C levels more often.

Long-Term Health Problems

Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health problems if you don’t get treatment or if you don’t manage your diabetes by following your doctor’s recommendations. The disease can affect important organs and systems in your body.

Type 2 diabetes can cause problems with your:

  • heart,
  • nerves,
  • kidneys,
  • blood flow,
  • eyes,
  • legs,
  • and/or feet.

Over time, health problems in these parts of your body can cause:

  • kidney failure,
  • blindness,
  • stroke,
  • gangrene,
  • or amputation.

It’s very important that you closely follow your doctor’s health plan for treating and managing your diabetes.

Important Things to Know

  • Type 2 diabetes happens when your body doesn’t make enough insulin. People can also get type 2 diabetes if their body can’t effectively use insulin.
  • Insulin allows the cells in our body to process glucose. Our bodies use glucose—or sugar—for energy.
  • There is no cure for type 2 diabetes. It’s a chronic disease, meaning it lasts longer than three months.
  • It’s the most common form of diabetes.
  • Doctors don’t know exactly what causes type 2 diabetes. If anyone in your family has diabetes, you have a higher chance of getting it at some point in your life.
  • People with diabetes need to make their sure blood sugar levels stay close to normal. It’s important that blood sugar levels don’t dip too low or raise too high.
  • People living with type 2 diabetes need to control their blood sugar (glucose) levels. You can do this by watching your blood sugar, exercising regularly, having a healthy diet, and getting regular checkups.

Next Steps

Finding out you have type 2 diabetes can be stressful and overwhelming. Before you visit a doctor to talk about your condition, keep these tips in mind:

  • Before your appointment, write down any questions you’d like your doctor to answer.
  • Know why you’re making the appointment and what you want to gain from the appointment.
  • Bring a family member or friend to your appointment. Your friend can help you ask questions and remember what your doctor tells you.
  • During your appointment, write down the names any new diagnoses the doctor gave you. Also, write down the names of any new medications, tests, or treatments the doctor wants you to get.
  • Your doctor may give you special instructions on how to manage your type 2 diabetes. Be sure to write these instructions down during your appointment.
  • If your doctor is prescribing a new medicine or treatment, know why. How will this medicine or treatment help you? Be sure to find out if the medicine has any side effects.
  • Ask if you can get other types of treatment for type 2 diabetes.
  • If your doctor is recommending a special test or procedure, know why. Be sure to learn about what the test results will tell you.
  • Know what could happen if you don’t take medicine or get the test or procedure your doctor is recommending.
  • If you will have a follow-up appointment, be sure to write down when and where the appointment will be. Write down why you need that follow-up appointment.
  • Know how to contact your doctor’s office after business hours. It’ll be important to contact your doctor after hours if you get sick, have questions, or need help.

Pamela Phares, PhD, APRN

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Dr. Phares specializes in diabetes care, obesity, and prevention of diabetes and heart disease. She has more than 20 years of experience as an independent advanced pratice clinician, both in public health and private practice clinical settings. She is the Program Director for the Utah Diabetes and Endocrinology Center's Diabetes and Heart Disease P... Read More

Utah Diabetes & Endocrinology Center

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