Diabetes Education

Type 2 Diabetes

Symptoms, treatment and potential prevention of Type 2 diabetes

When you have Type 2 diabetes, you have high blood glucose levels because of a lack of insulin or the inability of your body to properly use the insulin. The first basic reason for Type 2 diabetes is the pancreas inability to produce enough insulin or the body cannot process it. The other reason for Type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, which occurs as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. Although Type 2 diabetes can develop for anyone at any age, it appears most frequently in middle-aged and older adults. Eight percent of the American population over 20 years old has Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2: Genetic or Preventable?

Although genetics may cause a person to be more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, the disease may be brought on due to factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise. Because of this, individuals have some level of control over when and if they ever have Type 2 diabetes. Health issues such as obesity later in life often bring this disease on and in many cases, Type 2 diabetes can be completely controlled through diet and exercise.

Warning Signs of Types 2 Diabetes

Although no symptoms may be present when you have diabetes, there may be warning signs that you may have increased blood glucose levels and be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, such as:

  • Urinating frequently
  • Extreme hunger or thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Ongoing skin, gum or bladder infections
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in your feet or hands
  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent infection
  • Bruises and cuts are slow to heal

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should discuss them with your treating physician immediately to find out if you are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Treating Type 2 Diabetes

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, which needs to be controlled with regular administration of insulin, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and controlled through exercise, diet and healthy living habits.
Changes to your lifestyle can be difficult and take time to incorporate into your daily routine. However, by following certain lifestyle changes, you can avoid long-term problems from diabetes and live an active life. Consider the following suggestions to take proper care of yourself with Type 2 diabetes:

  • Follow a diabetes meal plan that incorporates healthy choices from the food pyramid.
  • Make healthy food choices such as fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and low-fat milk.
  • Bake, broil or grill food and avoid frying.
  • Minimize your salt and fat intake, avoid sugar and eat smaller portions.
  • Remain at a healthy weight for your height and keep the extra pounds off
  • Get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity or exercise daily.
  • Avoid getting stressed out and quit bad habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Monitor your blood glucose level daily and make sure to schedule regular visits with your treating physician to test your blood glucose level, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Brush and floss your teeth daily.
  • Check your overall condition every day; sores on your feet, blurry vision and ongoing infections should be reported to your doctor immediately.
  • If you are upset about your condition, talk to someone such as a friend, family member or counselor about it to help you cope.

By making these simple lifestyle changes, you can keep Type 2 diabetes at bay and enjoy a great sense of physical and emotional well-being. People with Type 2 diabetes often have a team of professionals to assist them with their condition, including their treating physician, diabetes educator, eye doctor, dentist, podiatrist, social worker, nurse or nurse practitioner, dietitian, counselor, social worker, pharmacist, family and friends.

If healthy lifestyle changes do not lower blood glucose levels significantly, your treating physician may decide to administer medicine or insulin to lower your blood sugar. By enlisting a team to help monitor the condition, Type 2 diabetics have enough care and assistance to lead productive, pleasurable lives.

Risks of Type 2 Diabetes

People with Type 2 diabetes need to make permanent lifestyle changes to control their disease and enlist a team of professionals to help them monitor their condition. A blood glucose monitor can be used at home to track sugar levels in the body and those with Type 2 diabetes should have an A1C test done regularly to reveal blood glucose levels over the past three months. The goal during an A1C test is to get below a "7" for optimum health (according to the American Diabetes Association).

When you have diabetes, you are a greater risk of developing other ailments including:

  • Stroke or heart disease
  • Neurological damage that makes your feet or hand numb which can even lead to amputation for certain folks
  • Blurriness of vision, eye problems and potential blindness
  • Frequent infections
  • Dry skin with wounds or bruises that heal slowly
  • For men, the possibility of erectile dysfunction exists
  • For women, the possibility of vaginal dryness or inability to reach orgasm
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Kidney difficulties or kidney shut down
  • Nerve damage, referred to as nephropathy
  • Increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease

There are also certain conditions that are specific to people with Type 2 diabetes. With ongoing monitoring and control of your disease, the following conditions may be prevented:

  • Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar
  • Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar
  • Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome (HHNS), usually seen in older people with Type 2 diabetes, where blood sugar levels rise and pass through your urine, causing frequent urination and possible dehydration, seizure, coma or even death
  • Hemochromatosis, a genetic disease of iron overload can damage the pancreas and lead to diabetes known as “bronze diabetes” since the excess iron tints the skin with a bronze or gray tone.
  • Frozen shoulder, formally called Adhesive Capsulitis, which makes moving your shoulder difficult or impossible

Additionally, if you are a Vietnam veteran with Agent Orange exposure and Type 2 diabetes, you may be eligible for disability compensation.

By monitoring your blood glucose levels, maintaining a healthy lifestyle every day, taking all necessary medications and scheduling regular appointments with members of your treatment team, you can ensure your ongoing well-being as a Type 2 diabetic. If you experience unusual symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, frequent urination, fever, dry skin, sores, infection, dry mouth, odd smelling breath, shortness of breath, fatigue or confusion, you should call your doctor right away to rule out serious complications.

Living with Type 2 Diabetes

As a Type 2 diabetic, you need to consistently monitor your blood sugar level, blood pressure and cholesterol to make sure you are in the best of health. It is also necessary to take note of changes in your body, such as sores on your feet, dry skin or mouth and fatigue and tell your doctor about them immediately so ensure your condition is not progressing.

When you have Type 2 diabetes, a healthy lifestyle is no longer a choice but a necessity. Eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise are essential to maintain optimum health and ward off the effects of Type 2 diabetes. Even when you go on vacation or during emergencies, you must maintain a proper diet, get regular physical activity and monitor your blood glucose levels. It is critical that you try to maintain a healthy lifestyle otherwise you can cause serious damage to your body. If you need to take medications, you need to have enough on hand and make sure you administer them on a regular schedule.

Finally, it is normal for you to have feelings of anger, denial or depression about diabetes. On occasion, you may even be the victim of discrimination at work or school because of your disease. If these situations arise, discuss them with a counselor or diabetes professional who can help you to handle them. By taking proper care of yourself, staying in constant communication with your treating physician and minimizing stress, you can live a long, healthy life with Type 2 diabetes.

Marci Sloane, MS, RD, LD/N, CDE

Article was reviewed by Marci Sloane, a registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. Marci graduated with a degree in Nutrition and Physiology from Teachers College at Columbia University. Marci manages a Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center in South Florida and is the author of The Diet Game: Playing for Life!

The goal of Destination Diabetes® is to be a useful and credible resource for the more than 20 million children and adults who have diabetes in the U.S. and their families. Destination Diabetes® provides information on a wide range of diabetes health and wellness topics. Articles are written or reviewed by diabetes advisors who have experience in diabetes education.