Type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes mellitus, is likely one of the better-known chronic diseases in the world — and it makes sense that this would be the case. Data suggests in the United States alone, 37.3 million people, or 11.3 percent of the U.S. population, have diabetes, and the majority of these people have type 2.
Whether you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or have a family history of the disease, this condition and the risk for health complications that may come with it can be scary. And with the required diet and lifestyle changes, there's no question that this diagnosis can be a challenging one to reckon with.
But living with type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be devastating. In fact, when you're educated about the disease — such as understanding how insulin resistance develops and how to mitigate it, knowing how to spot the signs of diabetes, and learning what to eat — you can tap into the resources you need to lead a happy, healthy life.
Furthermore, there’s increasing evidence that one tactic — bariatric surgery — could reverse type 2 diabetes entirely.
In this article, delve into this information and so much more. Sit back, read on, and get ready to take charge of type 2 diabetes.
Common Questions & Answers
Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
- Frequent urination and extreme thirst
- Sudden or unexpected weight loss
- Increased hunger
- Blurry vision
- Dark, velvety patches of skin (called acanthosis nigricans)
- Wounds that won’t heal
If you have one or more risk factors for type 2 diabetes and notice any of these signs, it’s a good idea to call your doctor, as you may have type 2 diabetes.
What Are the Early Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?
Causes and Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors
As mentioned, type 2 diabetes is a multifactorial disease. That means you can’t just stop eating sugar or start exercising to avoid developing this health condition.
Here are some of the factors that may affect your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Is Type 2 Diabetes Genetic?
Independent of diet and lifestyle factors, your genetics can affect your risk of type 2 diabetes, too.
How Is Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosed?
Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test A1C is a two- to three-month measurement of your average blood sugar levels. While an A1C of 5.7 or below is normal, anything between 5.7 and 6.4 percent signals prediabetes and a reading of 6.5 percent or higher on two different tests suggests you have diabetes.
A1C and fasting glucose are common tests used to diagnose diabetes, but if you’re pregnant or have a hemoglobin variant, your doctor may use another method, such as:
- Oral glucose tolerance test
- Random blood sugar test
Prognosis of Type 2 Diabetes
Don’t lose hope, though. You don’t have to be a statistic. Receiving a prompt diagnosis can help you get your health on track and reduce your risk of complications.
Indeed, if you take care to manage your blood sugar by following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, taking your prescribed medication, and losing weight, you may find your quality of life to be better with diabetes than it was before your diagnosis.
Duration of Type 2 Diabetes
Although changes to your diet and lifestyle, and oral and injectable medication (such as insulin) can help manage type 2 diabetes, the disease's underlying predisposition for insulin resistance cannot be cured.
Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia
If you have type 2 diabetes, you’re at risk of high blood sugar and low blood sugar. Preventing these episodes requires knowing the signs, causes, and treatment options to get your blood sugar back in a healthy range.
Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar)
High blood sugar doesn't always produce symptoms, so it's important to check your blood sugar regularly, as indicated by your doctor.
- Frequent urination
- Extreme thirst
- Feeling tired and weak
- Blurry vision
- Feeling hungry, even after eating
If you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you can work with your doctor to devise a treatment plan to keep it as close to a healthy range as possible.
Even after you start treatment, you may still develop hyperglycemia at times.
- Missing prescribed medicines or taking medication at the wrong times or in the wrong amounts
- Eating large portions, especially of foods with more carbs than intended or expected
- Not getting enough sleep
- Experiencing emotional stress
- Doing intense exercise
- Having an illness or infection
Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
Although low blood sugar is more common in people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes can also develop this condition, especially if they are using insulin.
- Your body's supply of glucose is used up too quickly.
- Glucose is released into your bloodstream too slowly.
- There's too much insulin in your bloodstream.
- Sudden, intense hunger
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Excessive sweating (often sudden and without regard to temperature)
- Shaking or tremors
- Sudden feelings of anxiety
- Irritability, mood swings, and sudden emotional outbursts that aren't part of your normal behavior
- Confusion or inability to concentrate
- Weakness or drowsiness
- Blurry vision
- Slurred speech
- Sleep disturbances, including night sweats, nightmares, waking suddenly and crying out, or feelings of confusion upon waking
- If hypoglycemia isn't treated right away, low blood sugar may result in life-threatening complications, such as seizure or coma, or even death.
People with diabetes may become hypoglycemic when they:
- Take their insulin or oral diabetes medication but then skip a meal, delay eating, or eat very little
- Develop it as a side effect of other diabetes medication
- Exercise strenuously without adequate food intake
- Drink too much alcohol
If you have type 2 diabetes, you've probably had a conversation with your doctor about how to treat yourself for low blood sugar.
- Glucose tablets
- Glucose gel
- Juice or regular soda (not diet)
- Sugar, honey, or corn syrup
- Hard candies, jelly beans, or gumdrops
How Much Do You Know About Type 2 Diabetes?
Treatment and Medication Options for Type 2 Diabetes
If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you have various treatment options at your disposal.
For example, you may be prescribed the oral medication metformin (Glucophage), which can help lower your blood sugar levels.
While metformin is the first-line medication for individuals with type 2 diabetes, it’s not the only diabetes medication at your disposal.
GLP-1 Receptor and GIP Agonists Tirzepatide (Mounjaro) is the first drug in this class to be commercially available. It activates the GLP-1 and GIP receptors, leading to improved blood sugar control and weight loss, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Complementary and Integrative Health Approaches
Apart from these conventional medication treatment options, effective diabetes management means taking a well-rounded approach: You’ll need to eat well, exercise, manage stress, and sleep enough, because all these factors can affect your blood sugar levels.
Certain complementary approaches may help support your conventional diabetes care, including certain botanical therapies, supplements, traditional Chinese medicine, mind-body therapies, and special diets like keto, research shows.
Insulin Options for Type 2 Diabetes
If you’re unable to control your blood sugar with oral or noninsulin injectable medication, diet, and lifestyle, you may need to add basal or bolus insulin to your treatment regimen.
Here's how they differ.
Bariatric Surgery and Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes Diet: What Can You Eat?
Keto Diet for Type 2 Diabetes: Does It Work?
Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes
Complications of Type 2 Diabetes
If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may have anxiety or concerns about the prospect of future health complications, such as amputations, heart disease, and vision loss. But living with this disease doesn’t destine you for these unpleasant outcomes.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes Complications
- Blood sugar control
- Blood pressure control
- Blood cholesterol control
You should discuss your level of control (and how to maintain or improve it) with your doctor at every doctor’s appointment.
Health Problems Linked to Type 2 Diabetes
If your blood sugar is frequently imbalanced, you may be at a greater risk for the following type 2 diabetes complications.
Diabetic retinopathy In diabetic retinopathy, high blood sugar weakens the capillaries (the tiny blood vessels) that supply the retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye.
The capillaries then swell, become blocked, or leak blood into the center of the eye, blurring vision. In advanced stages, abnormal new blood vessels grow.
Diabetic neuropathy Neuropathy, or nerve damage, can affect any nerve in your body. Most commonly, it affects the nerves in the feet, legs, hands, and arms; this condition is called peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy can cause tingling, burning, pain, or numbness in the affected areas.
The pain of peripheral neuropathy is difficult to control, though some find topical products that contain capsaicin to be helpful.
Diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) In diabetic nephropathy, the nephrons (or filtering units) in the kidneys become damaged from chronic high blood sugar.
High blood pressure compounds the problem, and high cholesterol appears to contribute to it as well.
In the early stages of diabetic nephropathy, you may not notice any symptoms, but standard blood and urine tests can detect early signs of dysfunction, and early treatment can stop or slow its progression.
Diabetic ulcer People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing foot ulcers (open sores).
A diabetic ulcer is often painless, and people may not even know they have them at first.
These foot ulcers can take several weeks to heal, and are a primary reason for hospital stays among people with diabetes.
If you have diabetes, you may also deal with sexual issues, gum disease, sleep apnea, and red or brown lesions (diabetic dermopathy).
Research and Statistics: Who Has Type 2 Diabetes?
BIPOC and Type 2 Diabetes
Complications of Diabetes
Possible Driving Factors Behind Health Disparities
Related Conditions and Causes of Type 2 Diabetes
While the cause of type 2 diabetes is multifactorial, meaning there’s no single cause, certain conditions exist in conjunction with this condition.
- Heart disease
- Peripheral vascular disease
Tips for Aging Well With Type 2 Diabetes
- Lean on your medical team, which may consist of an endocrinologist, a podiatrist, an RDN and a CDCES, and other specialty health professionals such as a therapist for mental healthcare. In many cases, your primary care physician will be your main healthcare provider for diabetes care.
- Stick to your medication regimen, and be open to potential medication adjustments.
- Take insulin if your doctor says you need it.
- Don’t smoke, or quit the habit.
- Eat diabetes-friendly foods and practice portion control.
- Exercise regularly.
- Regularly check your blood sugar.
Type 2 Diabetes and COVID-19
The CDC points out that having type 2 diabetes can make it more likely that you will experience complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Nonetheless, proper blood sugar management can help lessen this risk.
Resources We Love
Favorite Orgs for Essential Diabetes Info
American Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES) Meeting
Everyday Health editors attend the ADCES annual meeting to connect with certified diabetes care and education specialists, registered dietitian nutritionists, and people like you, who are looking for ways to better manage blood sugar, diet, medication, and more. Check out information on the next meeting here.
American Diabetes Association (ADA)
The ADA is considered the leading nonprofit for type 1 and type 2 diabetes education. The ADA's free yearlong program Living With Diabetes offers top-of-the-line resources for anyone new to living with diabetes. You’ll get access to their newsletter, expert Q&A session, and online support system, among other perks.
American Heart Association (AHA)
One of our favorite features from the AHA is a go-to resource for preventing heart disease: Know Diabetes by Heart. The ADA-supported initiative lays out a step-by-step guide for keeping your heart healthy while living with diabetes.
Favorite Alternative Medicine Resource
Cleveland Clinic Functional Ketogenics Program
Want to give the ketogenic (“keto”) diet a whirl to better manage diabetes? This pioneering program from the Cleveland Clinic offers a way to do just that, with trained counselors who can help you adjust your diet and medication along the way.
Favorite Online Support Networks
Enter this website, and you’ll immediately feel less alone in your diabetes journey. They’ve got loads of inspiring patient stories in addition to their forum, which helps you connect with others managing diabetes.
These sisters truly have your back when it comes to using insulin at the dinner table, making your emotional health a priority, and all the other stuff you don’t know how to bring up with your diabetes care team. They rotate bloggers on a three- to six-month basis to share their diabetes journeys in their own words. And don’t let the site name fool you: “Diabetes Misters” are welcome too.
For more of our favorite diabetes blogs, check out our list.
Favorite Site for Diabetes Products
Diabetes Forecast Consumer Guide
The FOMO on diabetes products ends now. This feature by the magazine and website Diabetes Forecast rounds up the best of the best in CGMs (continuous glucose monitors), glucagon kits, insulin pens, and more.
Favorite Resource for Diet Advice
Joslin Diabetes Center
Giving up some of the foods you once loved is arguably the biggest bummer about receiving a diabetes diagnosis. But with this Harvard-affiliated organization’s expert diet guidance, you don’t have to.
For more on "bad" foods you can eat in a diabetes diet, check out our article "5 'Bad' Diabetes Foods You Can Enjoy in Moderation."
Favorite Resource for Becoming an Advocate
International Diabetes Federation (IDF)
Want to get involved? The IDF, which reaches 168 countries, makes it easy with their advocacy network page. You’ll find different organizations that you can work with to help propel diabetes research, legislation, and awareness.
If you’re looking to home in on your A1C goal, this app’s for you. It lets you analyze dips and rises in your blood sugar, offers education about blood sugar management, allows you to work with a CDE virtually, and even links data from certain diabetes devices.
For more of our favorite diabetes apps, check out our list.
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