Whether you have type 2 diabetes, are a caregiver or loved one of a person with type 2, or just want to learn more, here’s an overview of this complex condition.
For even more resources, see our “Helpful Links” page below, with links to diaTribe articles focused on living with type 2 diabetes, available drugs and devices, information about diabetes complications, nutrition and food resources, and more!
In addition, Bright Spots & Landmines: The Diabetes Guide I Wish Someone Had Handed Me, by former diaTribe editor Adam Brown, has hundreds of tips for better managing your diabetes. Get it as a free PDF here or for $6 on Amazon.com.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic health condition in which the body has trouble processing glucose (or sugar) from the bloodstream to use for energy. It means your body isn’t using insulin effectively, and it’s characterized by high blood sugar levels.
Insulin is the hormone that allows our cells to take up glucose, the energy found in food, so that we can use the energy or store it for later. Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells have trouble responding to insulin. At the beginning of type 2 diabetes (also called prediabetes), insulin resistance increases gradually, and the body tries to make even more insulin so that its cells can still get energy. Over time, the cells in the pancreas that make insulin will become less effective and will no longer be able to produce enough insulin for the body’s requirements.
Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that requires attention and careful monitoring. The good news is that with the right care and treatment, it’s very possible to live a long, healthy, and happy life.
Type 2 diabetes can have both short-term and long-term effects. Maintaining stable glucose levels can lead to better moods and more energy. In the long term, the high blood sugar levels that characterize diabetes can damage the body, affecting the nervous system, blood vessels, eyes, heart, and kidneys. These complications impact quality of life, and they increase a person’s risk for events like a heart attack or stroke. Managing blood glucose levels carefully and right away, along with other health factors (like cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight), is necessary for preventing these complications. Losing even a small amount of weight and keeping it off can also help improve glucose management.
To learn more about complications, click here.
It is possible to lower your chances of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes develops through a combination of factors – lifestyle factors, such as food, exercise, stress, and sleep play a role, as do family history and genetics, and environmental factors. While type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, it is not simply the result of high body weight. To lower the risk of type 2 diabetes (as well as other diseases), it is recommended to exercise often, eat nutritious food, and maintain a healthy body weight.
No – type 2 diabetes is not a personal failing. It doesn’t matter what you have done in your life until this point – no one asks to be diagnosed with diabetes.
While lifestyle certainly plays a major role, family history also has a significant effect on developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is not simply the result of high body weight – while obesity is one underlying cause of insulin resistance, many individuals with excess weight may never develop type 2 diabetes, while some people with type 2 diabetes never have excess weight.
There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including:
Having family members who have type 2 diabetes
Having obesity or excess weight (a BMI above 25 kg/m2)
High blood pressure or cholesterol
Being over the age of 40
Not enough physical activity
Ethnicity: Hispanic, Black, Native American, and Asian communities have higher rates of diabetes
To see if you may be at risk for diabetes, consider taking this short and simple Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test from the American Diabetes Association.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes often appear slowly, meaning that many people with diabetes may not know they have it for years. Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:
Feeling very thirsty
Feeling very hungry, even though you are eating
Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands or feet
According to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes (and type 1 diabetes) can be diagnosed through any one of the following tests
An A1C test, formally called a glycated hemoglobin test or HbA1C test. This blood test gives an estimate of a person’s average blood sugar levels from the past two or three months. An A1C of 6.5% or higher is considered diabetes (5.7% to 6.4% is considered prediabetes, and an A1C below 5.7% is considered normal.)
A fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test measures a person’s blood glucose level after a period of fasting (not eating) for eight hours. An FPG of 126 mg/dl or higher indicates diabetes.
An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) measures the body's blood glucose level two hours after consuming a sugary drink. An OGTT result of 200 mg/dl or higher indicates diabetes.
In someone with symptoms of high blood sugar (or hyperglycemia), a random plasma glucose test can be used to check blood sugar levels. A blood sugar level above 200 mg/dl indicates diabetes.
Every person is different, so there is no single approach to treating type 2 diabetes. For everyone with diabetes, healthy eating, exercise, and weight management are key to managing the condition. As type 2 diabetes progresses, people may need to take medications to help manage blood sugar levels – learn more about diabetes drugs here.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, meaning that the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar decreases with time. Eventually, the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin (called increased insulin resistance), and cells in the pancreas produce less insulin. As the condition progresses, people typically need to start taking one or more different types of glucose-lowering medications. The good news is that there are many choices available for treatment. Careful blood sugar management early on can help slow the progression of diabetes; however, using medication certainly does not mean that you have failed diabetes management.
In the early stages of type 2 diabetes, it is possible to manage your diabetes to a level where symptoms go away and your A1C reaches a normal level – this effectively “reverses” the progression of type 2 diabetes, putting it into remission. However, it is important to note that diabetes remission is not the same as curing type 2 diabetes – people still need to monitor their weight, diet, and exercise to ensure that diabetes does not return and get worse. In addition, many doctors consider it remission even if you must take metformin.
For many people who have had type 2 diabetes for a longer time, damage to the cells that produce insulin means that the person won’t ever be able to make enough insulin to fully manage his or her blood sugar without additional therapies, even with dramatic weight loss. Nevertheless, weight loss can still help people reduce the threat of health complications.
While improvements in care and treatment for type 2 diabetes are helping many people live longer, the unfortunate reality is that type 2 diabetes has been shown to decrease life expectancy by up to ten years. There is still much work to be done to ensure that everyone with diabetes has access to appropriate healthcare to live a healthy life with type 2 diabetes.
*Please note, this page is not a comprehensive list of all the available resources.