Type 2 Diabetes Explained: What is it & How to Manage It

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition where the body can't use insulin properly, leading to high blood sugar levels. Learn about its causes, symptoms, and management.

Type 2 diabetes is when the body has trouble using insulin right. This leads to high blood sugar. It’s the most common diabetes type and usually grows slowly over years. The body either doesn’t make enough insulin or the cells resist it. This causes sugar to stay in the blood instead of turning into energy.1

Many things can up the chance of getting type 2 diabetes. These include being too heavy, not moving enough, having it in the family, how old you are, your background, and certain conditions. If not managed well, type 2 diabetes can hurt the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys.1

But, you can make a big difference by changing how you live. Eating healthy, moving more, and losing weight can stop or slow down type 2 diabetes.1

Key Takeaways

  • Type 2 diabetes is a condition that makes the body’s insulin use wrong, raising blood sugar levels.
  • Many risk factors for type 2 diabetes exist, such as being overweight, not exercising enough, family history, and age.
  • By making lifestyle changes, you can lower your risk and avoid health issues type 2 diabetes can cause.
  • Even though there isn’t a cure, type 2 diabetes can be controlled with lifestyle changes and treatments.
  • It’s important to keep track of your health, eat well, and stay active to manage type 2 diabetes and avoid problems.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition. It affects how the body uses insulin. This hormone controls our blood sugar levels.2

In this type, the body may not make much insulin. Or, the cells ignore what insulin they do get. This means sugar stays in the blood instead of turning into energy.1 Managing this is crucial to avoid high blood sugar and related health issues.

Type 2 Diabetes Overview

In a healthy body, insulin escorts glucose into cells for energy. In type 2 diabetes, though, cells don’t respond well to insulin. This is called insulin resistance.1 Glucose piles up in the blood, unused by cells. The pancreas makes more insulin to compensate. Eventually, it can’t produce enough, causing high blood sugar.

Insulin Resistance and Glucose Regulation

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the immune system attacking the pancreas. But type 2 diabetes often links to lifestyle and insulin resistance.2 Type 1 commonly starts in childhood. However, type 2 is more in adults, especially if they’re overweight.2 Unlike type 1, type 2 can be managed with lifestyle changes and drugs.

Difference from Type 1 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more widespread, affecting many globally.1 It’s mostly seen in seniors but has been rising in younger, less active people.2 Being overweight, having a family history, being inactive, and some health conditions increase the risk.2

Prevalence and Risk Factors

Over 34.2 million Americans have diabetes, mostly type 2.1 Globally, about 9.3% of adults have diabetes.1 It’s a major cause of kidney failure, amputations, and blindness.1 In 2020, the market for diabetes care was $58.4 billion, growing 8.1% yearly.1

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Recognizing the symptoms of type 2 diabetes can take time. People may not notice them at first. Signs like feeling very thirsty, needing to pee a lot, and always feeling hungry are common. You might also feel tired, see things as if they’re not clear, and heal slowly from cuts or sores. Hands or feet might tingle. Sometimes, the skin in the armpits and neck might become dark.1

Recognizing Asymptomatic Cases

Surprisingly, some folks with type 2 diabetes never get those clear symptoms. This makes it hard to know they have it, especially in the beginning, which we call “asymptomatic diabetes”. They might only find out when doctors test their blood sugar levels or if they start having other diabetes problems. It’s crucial to get checked regularly if you might be at risk.

Type 2 diabetes symptoms

Causes of Type 2 Diabetes

Being overweight and not moving enough can cause type 2 diabetes. It’s especially risky if you carry a lot of weight around your belly. This can make your body’s cells ignore insulin, causing problems.1 Plus, just sitting around a lot and eating too many processed foods is also bad.

Genetic and Environmental Influences

Your genes and your surroundings can team up to give you type 2 diabetes. If people in your family have had it, you might get it too.1 And some racial groups, like African Americans and Hispanics, have more chances of getting it. This is likely because of both their genes and the places they live.1

Diagnosis and Testing

Health professionals use several blood tests to spot type 2 diabetes. These include the fasting plasma glucose test, the oral glucose tolerance test, and the hemoglobin A1C test.3 These tests look at blood glucose levels to see if someone has diabetes or is at risk. The hemoglobin A1C test shows average blood sugar levels from the last 2-3 months. This helps manage diabetes.3

Along with blood sugar checks, doctors might do other tests to confirm diabetes or check for other health issues. These might involve physical exams and looking at past health records. In some cases, they could do urine tests or use images to see if there are any diabetes-related problems.

Blood Sugar Tests

Diabetes is confirmed if the A1C is 6.5% or higher,4 and prediabetes if it’s 5.7% to 6.4%.4 A diabetes diagnosis also comes from a fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dL or higher,4 with prediabetes at 100 to 125 mg/dL.4 An oral glucose tolerance test indicates diabetes with a blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL or more after 2 hours, or 140-199 mg/dL for prediabetes.3

Diabetes can also be diagnosed with a random/plasma glucose level of 200 mg/dL or higher.4

Other Diagnostic Procedures

Doctors may use more tests, along with blood sugar checks, to make sure of a diabetes diagnosis or to check for other problems. These might involve looking at the patient closely, asking about past illnesses, and further tests like urine checks or scans that look inside the body. All this is to gauge the patient’s overall health and to find any diabetes-linked issues.

Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Lifestyle Changes for Blood Sugar Control

Handling type 2 diabetes well often starts with changes in how we live.1 This means eating right, which involves a diet filled with fresh, unprocessed food and plenty of fiber. Regular activities like quick walking and biking can make your body react to insulin better. This lowers your sugar levels.1 It’s key to keep a healthy weight through both healthy eating and staying active.

See also  Diabetes Diet: Manage Blood Sugar with Healthy Eating

Dietary Recommendations

For those with type 2 diabetes, eating a mix of nutrient-packed food is vital. This includes things like lean meats, lots of veggies, good fats, and carbs that take time to break down.5 It’s also crucial to watch how much you eat and to avoid too much sugar, bad carbs, and unhealthy fats.5 A dietitian can craft a special eating plan. This plan will help keep your blood sugar in check and improve your overall well-being.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Exercise is essential for controlling type 2 diabetes.5 Doing 150 minutes or more of activities that get your heart going each week, like fast walking, swimming, or biking, is a good start. This can make your body use insulin better, drop your blood sugar, and aid in losing weight.5 But, if you’re about to start or change your exercise routine, it’s wise to talk to your doctor first. This is especially true if you’re on insulin or certain other medicines.

Medications for Type 2 Diabetes

Many people with type 2 diabetes need medicine along with healthy habits to control their blood sugar. The first choice for many doctors is metformin, a pill that helps in several ways.6 It can lower the amount of sugar the liver makes and makes the body better at using insulin. Sometimes, more than one pill is needed to keep diabetes under control.

Oral Diabetes Medications

6 Metformin is a very common drug for type 2 diabetes. A lot of people have side effects like feeling sick or having diarrhea when they start taking it.6 Other diabetes pills can make your blood sugar too low. If you take these other pills, you might need to check your blood sugar more.

Injectable Medications

7 Some people need shots for their diabetes. These shots act like the body’s own hormones, helping to control sugar levels.7 If weight loss is a goal, some of these shots can help with that too.

Insulin Therapy

8 As type 2 diabetes gets worse, the body may stop making enough insulin. If this happens, insulin shots become necessary.8 Insulin comes in different types that can be given as shots or with special pens and pumps. Choosing the right type is something you and your doctor will decide together.

6 People with diabetes can get all their medicines for free, including ones for other health problems.6 You just need to get a special certificate that shows you’re exempt from paying. This certificate is good for 5 years.6 Keep extra medicine with you when you travel in case your main supply is lost or damaged. Also, get a letter from your doctor explaining why you’re carrying these medicines when you travel abroad.

7 Doctors might advise using more than one type of diabetes medicine to keep your blood sugar in check. They will help you find what works best for you.

8 Metformin is the go-to oral medicine for diabetes.8 There are also DPP-4 inhibitors and GLP-1 receptor agonists that can help. These can give better blood sugar control, especially when added to a healthy diet and exercise.8 In some cases, your doctor might recommend GLP-1 agonists because they also protect against heart and kidney problems.

Complications of Uncontrolled Diabetes

Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can be very harmful. It often leads to serious health issues, especially with the heart. People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes.9 This happens because high blood sugar hurts the blood vessels, making heart problems more likely.

Cardiovascular Complications

Patients with type 2 diabetes face a bigger risk of heart-related issues. This includes heart disease, heart failure, and high blood pressure.10 After a heart attack, people with diabetes are more likely to die than those without.10

Nerve Damage and Neuropathy

When blood sugar is high for a long time, it can harm the nerves. This is called diabetic neuropathy.9 It causes numbness, tingling, and pain, mostly in the hands and feet. It can also cause problems like with digestion, the bladder, and sex.

Many diabetic patients have a type of nerve damage that affects the heart.10 This makes it hard to feel heart pain, and it can lead to dangerous heart rhythms.10

Kidney Disease and Eye Problems

Diabetes can also hurt the kidneys and eyes. It’s a big reason why people get kidney disease. In the worst cases, it can lead to needing a kidney transplant.9 High blood sugar can also damage blood vessels in the eyes. This can lead to eye diseases that cause blindness if not treated.9


Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes

Maintaining a healthy weight is key to avoiding type 2 diabetes. Even a small weight loss, like 5-7% of your body weight, can make a big difference. This is extra important for those carrying too much weight.

Regular Physical Activity

Staying active helps prevent type 2 diabetes. Exercising for 150 minutes a week with activities like walking, swimming, or biking, can do wonders. It boosts your insulin sensitivity, lowers blood sugar, and helps manage your weight. All this reduces your type 2 diabetes risk.11

Dietary Modifications

Eating right is crucial too. A diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and good fats, but low in added sugars and bad fats is best.11 A dietitian can assist with a custom plan for diabetes prevention and general well-being.

Prediabetes and Early Intervention

Prediabetes means blood sugar levels are high but not yet at diabetes level. About one in three U.S. adults have prediabetes.12 If not treated, it often develops into type 2 diabetes. Getting ahead of this condition is key to avoiding its later problems.13

Changing your lifestyle helps a lot. Losing weight, moving more, and eating better can prevent type 2 diabetes.12 Research shows that a special program can lower your risk by over half.14 So, starting early and staying active are your best defenders against prediabetes.

There’s also a medicine called metformin that can reduce your type 2 diabetes risk. This drug has shown to be very helpful. Another drug, acarbose, is also being looked at. Scientists want to see if these medicines can protect your heart and help manage diabetes.1214

The National DPP program has been a great success. It cut new diabetes cases by 37% among the elderly. This not only saved money but now Medicare covers this program for those with prediabetes. California Medicaid has joined in too, starting in 2019. There’s even a story about a woman who did a community program and lowered her diabetes risk factors significantly.12

See also  Which Juice Is Good for Diabetes: Healthy Drink Options

It’s hard to spot prediabetes at first. But, studies have shown that treating it early can prevent type 2 diabetes. This is why doctors follow specific guidelines and stress the need for early care. Being on top of prediabetes is essential.13

About prediabetes, it’s a known danger sign for not only type 2 diabetes but also heart and overall health. A study has even linked it to cancer. This shows why lifestyle changes play a huge part. They can really lessen the impact of diabetes.14

The role of diet and activity in reducing diabetes risk is being well studied. The effects of common drugs and newer findings on diabetes are out there too. All this research aims to guide health choices and prevent diabetes and its issues.14

Starting early and changing how you live are powerful ways to deal with prediabetes. They help lower the risk of moving on to type 2 diabetes and its troubles. This is backed up by a lot of data.121314

Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Adolescents

Type 2 diabetes was once rare in kids but is now on the rise. This increase is tied to more children becoming overweight or obese. Kids who have family members with diabetes or are from certain ethnic backgrounds face a higher risk.15 It’s vital to catch and manage this early to avoid serious health problems later on.

In Australia, the number of cases in children under 17 is about two in every 100,000 each year.15 This number keeps going up, with a 27% increase seen from 1990 to 2002. Kids can go from having a mild glucose problem to full-blown diabetes much faster than adults, in as little as 12-21 months.15

Kids who get type 2 diabetes early face hard times ahead, like needing insulin sooner than adults with the disease. They also have a higher chance of heart problems and other diabetes-related health issues. Adolescents with type 2 diabetes might live 15 years less than those without it.15 In a study from Japan, over a fifth of people with type 2 diabetes went blind by 32, and 3% needed kidney dialysis by 35.15

When kids hit puberty, they might have a harder time using insulin well, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. This often happens during their teenage years, but rarely younger.15 Some studies, like the SEARCH for Diabetes one, haven’t found type 2 diabetes in children younger than 4. But they did find a small number of cases among 5 to 9-year-olds.15 Doctors check for diabetes by looking at blood sugar, how the child feels, and certain test results.15

For treating type 2 diabetes in children, the FDA has given the green light to several drugs. This includes Metformin, Liraglutide, and Insulin.16 If a child has to take insulin, they’ll likely need to check their blood sugar four times a day or more. The goal for their A1C, a measure of blood sugar control, is 7% or lower.16 The American Diabetes Association says it’s really important to not just watch blood sugar, but other health signs too. This means keeping an eye on things like height, blood pressure, and how the heart and liver are doing, as well as checking the eyes, feet, and certain health risks.16

It’s key for children with diabetes to know the signs of blood sugar that’s too low or too high, or of DKA.16 Signs of low blood sugar include looking pale, feeling shaky, being extra hungry or thirsty, sweating a lot, getting upset easily, having a hard time concentrating, feeling dizzy, and in the worst cases, even having a seizure.16 High blood sugar might show up as needing to pee a lot, feeling extremely thirsty, eyesight that’s suddenly not clear, being very tired, or sick to the stomach.16 If something like DKA is happening, the child might be very thirsty, their skin could be dry, they may complain of stomach pain and have a weird, sweet-smelling breath, and they might seem confused.16

Managing Diabetes During Pregnancy

Pregnancy brings extra challenges for those with type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes may occur, posing risks for both mom and baby. It’s vital to manage blood sugar levels with a healthy diet, exercise, and medicine as needed. This ensures the well-being of both the mother and her baby.17

The ACOG provides guidelines for handling pregestational diabetes during pregnancy. They stress teamwork with healthcare professionals like obstetricians, endocrinologists, and dietitians. Together, a personalized plan for diabetes care is made.17

Blood Glucose Targets During PregnancyTarget Range
Before a meal (preprandial) and bedtime/overnight60-99 mg/dl18
After a meal (postprandial)100-129 mg/dl18
Hemoglobin A1CLess than 6%18

Meeting these blood sugar targets is key to fewer risks during pregnancy. This includes problems like pre-eclampsia and birth defects. Women with diabetes need to check their blood up to eight times a day. This monitoring, including after meals, helps keep their blood sugar in check.18

Doctors also set goals for healthy weight gain based on pre-pregnancy weight. These aims help ensure the baby grows well and the mother’s health stays good. Too much or too little weight gain can lead to problems.18

Staying active is another must-do for pregnant women with diabetes. Exercising can make the body use insulin better. It’s great for both the mom and the baby. Also, it’s best to exercise under the guidance of the diabetes care team.18

Planning ahead and keeping well matters a lot for pregnant women with diabetes. It helps avoid issues and plan for a healthy pregnancy. Managing small blood vessels’ health and birth control before pregnancy are also crucial for those with pregestational diabetes.17

Working closely with health experts helps women with type 2 diabetes have safe pregnancies. Regular check-ups, lifestyle changes, and adjusting medicines as needed are key. This ensures both the mother and baby do well.1718

Mental Health and Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can really affect how someone feels. It’s more than just dealing with a health issue. It’s sticking to a strict plan, and worrying about what could go wrong. This can make people feel sad, anxious, and stressed. In the US, about 6.7% of adults deal with major depression. Yet, if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, your chance of getting depressed is twice as high.19

See also  Effective Ways to Treat Swollen Feet with Diabetes

Some groups feel the impact even more. For example, young people with type 1 diabetes may struggle with sadness more than their peers.19 Also, women with type 1 diabetes have higher chances of developing eating issues. These problems can be quite serious, but some people with diabetes may not even know that they are at risk.19 Around 33 to 50% of diabetes patients might feel this stress at some point.20

Though mental health conditions are common, many cases don’t get the help they need. Up to 45% of these issues go unnoticed in those getting diabetes treatment. And, fewer than a third of diabetes patients with mental health problems get the right help.20 It’s vital to treat physical and mental health with equal care when fighting diabetes.

If you have type 2 diabetes, don’t hesitate to find a mental health expert for support. Stress relief is also key in managing your diabetes well.20 Antidepressants may even help control blood pressure in diabetes patients.20 Managing stress is crucial because it can mess with your blood sugar levels. Plus, it makes sticking to your care plan harder.20

Taking care of your mental health is as important as your physical health when you have diabetes. By dealing with the mind aspects, people with type 2 diabetes can handle their condition better. This leads to a better quality of life. So, getting mental health support as part of your diabetes care is a smart move. It makes a big difference for those fighting this long-term challenge.

Living with Type 2 Diabetes

Living with type 2 diabetes means taking care of yourself. You need to look at your blood sugar often. It’s also important to live a healthy life and take any medicine your doctor gives you.1 It’s easier with help from friends, family, and doctors. They can support you. Joining groups or classes about diabetes can give you good information and support too.

Monitoring and Tracking Progress

Checking your blood sugar often is a must. You can either use a device to check or wear a special monitor.21 Looking at these numbers helps you see what’s working and what’s not. Then, you and your doctor can make a plan to keep you healthy. It’s also key to watch your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. This helps give a clear view of your health.


Type 2 diabetes is a serious, long-term condition. Yet, it can be kept under control with the right steps. This includes changing your lifestyle and taking your medicine. Working with your healthcare team is also key. By doing this, you can keep your blood sugar levels in check, lower the chance of problems, and enjoy an active life.22

In the world, more and more people are getting diabetes. The number is set to rise from 171 million in 2000 to 366 million by 2030.22 Research shows that following a Mediterranean diet can cut your chance of getting type 2 diabetes. It also helps lower heart disease risks in those already at high risk.22 Plus, sticking to this diet in the long run can keep older adults healthier.22

Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured. But, you can control it with some effort. This includes taking care of yourself, using medicine when needed, and focusing on staying well.23 For example, a study found that keeping your blood sugar tightly controlled can reduce problems in overweight people with diabetes. They used a medicine called metformin for this.23 And another study showed that eating right, exercising, or taking metformin can also prevent some from getting diabetes.23


What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a long-term condition. The body can’t use insulin well. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar. If not managed, it causes high blood sugar levels and health issues.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Lifestyle habits and the body’s resistance to insulin cause type 2 diabetes. Being overweight, not being active, or having a family history are risk factors. Age, ethnicity, and certain health conditions like prediabetes also play a role.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Early signs of type 2 diabetes include being very thirsty and urinating often. You might also feel hungrier than usual and tired. Other symptoms are blurry vision, slow-to-heal sores, and infections. Some may have numbness in hands and feet with darkened skin.

How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose type 2 diabetes with blood tests like fasting plasma glucose and A1C. These tests look at your blood sugar levels. They show if you have diabetes or are at risk.

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

First, managing type 2 diabetes means changing your lifestyle. This includes eating healthy and being active. You may also need medications or insulin to keep your blood sugar in check.

What are the potential complications of uncontrolled type 2 diabetes?

Not controlling type 2 diabetes can harm the heart, nerves, kidneys, and eyes. These issues reduce quality of life. It’s important to control your diabetes to avoid these problems.

How can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

To prevent type 2 diabetes, stay at a healthy weight and be active. Eating well is also key. Getting ahead of prediabetes early can lower your risk.

How does type 2 diabetes affect children and adolescents?

Kids and teens are more at risk for type 2 diabetes because of rising obesity. It’s critical to detect and treat it early to prevent harm and support their health.

How does type 2 diabetes impact mental health?

Type 2 diabetes affects mental health too. Its chronic nature and strict treatments can cause depression and anxiety. It’s essential for diabetes patients to take care of their mental health and seek help when needed.

How can individuals with type 2 diabetes effectively manage their condition?

Managing type 2 diabetes is about lifestyle, medicine, and checking health numbers often. Support from family and education on diabetes are also vital. They help in staying well and managing the disease.

Source Links

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193
  2. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/type-2-diabetes
  3. https://nyulangone.org/conditions/type-2-diabetes/diagnosis
  4. https://diabetes.org/about-diabetes/diagnosis
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351199
  6. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/understanding-medication/
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-treatment/art-20051004
  8. https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/medications-list
  9. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7903505/
  11. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-prevention/art-20047639
  12. https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20181114diabetesprev.html
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23953075/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10941028/
  15. https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2016/june/type-2-diabetes-mellitus-in-children-and-adolescen
  16. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes-in-children/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355324
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9810465/
  18. https://diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/life-stages/gestational-diabetes/prenatal-care
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439400/
  20. https://www.mhanational.org/diabetes-and-mental-health
  21. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21501-type-2-diabetes
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3977406/
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3073595/