What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes impairs the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, a type of sugar. A healthy body transforms glucose into energy with the help of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.
Having type 2 diabetes means that either the body does not produce enough insulin to maintain normal levels of glucose, or it stops responding to insulin.
Because of this, sugar levels remain and build up in the bloodstream, affecting other major organs and causing serious complications including:
- Heart and blood vessel disease such as stroke, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis or the narrowing of blood vessels.
- Kidney damage, particularly kidney failure or other irreversible kidney diseases that require dialysis or kidney transplant.
- Nerve damage or neuropathy, either by losing the sense of feeling in affected limbs or by damaging nerves that control digestion. This causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.
- Eye damage such as cataracts, glaucoma, and even damage the blood vessels of the retina.
- Hearing problems.
- Slow healing of wounds, cuts, and blisters that can result in serious infections if left untreated, or may even require amputation.
- Skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.
- Sleep apnea is also relatively common with type 2 diabetes.
- Alzheimer’s disease is another complication of type 2 diabetes, although the cause is unclear.
How common is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is the most common of the three types of diabetes. It accounts for 90% of diagnosed diabetes cases. It is important for those diagnosed to know how to stay healthy with type 2 diabetes.
Signs and Symptoms
Type 2 diabetes can develop slowly. It may also go unnoticed over a long period of time, because symptoms are easy to miss. The common symptoms of type 2 diabetes are:
- Constant hunger
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Blurred vision
In time, the disease may progress with more severe symptoms. If the body’s blood sugar levels remain high over a long period of time, type 2 diabetes can also cause symptoms that are more uncommon. These include:
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Slow-healing wounds
- Dark patches on the neck
- Foot pain
- Numbness in the extremities or neuropathy
When should I see my doctor?
A person who has more than two of these symptoms should immediately consult a doctor. Diabetes can be life-threatening if left untreated. This makes it more important to know how to stay healthy with type 2 diabetes.
To date, it is unclear what triggers the onset of diabetes. Normally, the pancreas – the gland behind and below the stomach – produces insulin and naturally releases it into the bloodstream. The insulin then facilitates movement of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells in the body, where it becomes energy. The effect is that there is a lowered amount of sugar in the bloodstream, and the pancreas also lowers its production of insulin.
For people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, their bodies are unable to properly metabolize glucose or sugar. They become resistant to insulin. As blood glucose levels increase, the pancreas produces more insulin, but it is no longer used efficiently by the body. This damages the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas until it is unable to produce any more to meet the demands of the body. It becomes imperative to learn how to stay healthy with type 2 diabetes.
While there is no known cause for type 2 diabetes, there are many factors that increase the risk of contracting this disease. These include the following:
- Being overweight increases the likelihood although there are some people with normal weight who develop type 2 diabetes.
- People who are less active are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes because physical activity helps control weight, uses glucose as energy, and allows the cells to be more receptive to insulin.
- Having a family member with type 2 diabetes poses a risk to developing this disease.
- Older people, especially after 45 years old, are likely more to get type 2 diabetes because they tend to exercise less, gain weight, and lose muscle mass.
- Pre-diabetes – a condition where blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes – may also progress to type 2 diabetes.
- Women diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant also have the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes, particularly if she gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) also have an increased risk of this disease.
Diagnosis & Treatment
How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?
The main test often used to determine the existence of type 2 diabetes:
- Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This test determines average blood sugar levels for the past 2-3 months. The normal level is below 5.7%, while a range between 5.7 to 6.4% is prediabetes. Anything above is considered diabetes, especially after two confirmatory tests.
In case the A1C test is not available, other tests include:
- Random blood sugar test. This is taken at random intervals with blood sugar read at either milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L). A reading of 20 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or above signifies a person has diabetes, taken together with other symptoms of diabetes.
- Fasting blood sugar test. This is taken after overnight fasting. The normal reading is less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L), while a level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) indicates prediabetes. Anything above 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) supports diabetes.
How is type 2 diabetes treated?
Generally, type 2 diabetes is addressed with diet and exercise. However, in case it is not sufficient, there are other possible medication and treatments for type 2 diabetes, including:
- Metformin. An oral diabetes medication that lowers the glucose production in the liver and improves the body’s reaction to insulin.
- Sulfonylureas. This medication helps the body to produce more insulin.
- Meglitinides. This stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin but this medication has a shorter duration in the body.
- Thiazolidinediones. This type of medicine makes the body more receptive to insulin.
- DPP-4 inhibitors. These help lower blood sugar levels.
- GLP-1 receptor agonists. An injectable medication that slows digestion and reduces blood sugar levels.
- SGLT2 inhibitors. These work to stop the kidney from reabsorbing sugar into the blood, and instead, be released as urine.
- Insulin. While uncommon, those with type 2 diabetes may need to resort to insulin therapy.
Lifestyle Changes & Home Remedies
Although there is no cure, type 2 diabetes can be prevented and, even, managed once diagnosed. This is particularly important for those with a history of diabetes in the family.
To reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes, the most important intervention is controlling weight gain.
A person diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can practice a healthy lifestyle to prevent further complications, while those with pre-diabetes can live a healthy life to slow or stop the progression to diabetes.
If you already have type 2 diabetes, losing weight can improve your health and blood sugar control.
Here is how to stay healthy with type 2 diabetes:
- Eat healthy food, such as those low in fat and calories but high in fiber.
- Be active with a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes moderate activity or 15 to 30 minutes of high intensity physical activity on most days.
- Lose weight, especially if overweight, and effect permanent changes to eating and exercise habits
- Avoid sitting still for long periods of time, so try to standing up and moving around every 30 minutes or so.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease affecting the body and other major organs. It also causes several, and possibly life-threatening complications. However, with proper monitoring, type 2 diabetes can be spotted early on. While proper diagnosis is important for its treatment, a healthy lifestyle is key in how to stay healthy with type 2 diabetes.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.