Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, making up about 90-95% of the cases. In 2021, about 537 million adults were living with diabetes worldwide, with 37.3 million in the US or 1.3% as of 2019. Sometimes, lifestyle factors such as inactivity and weight can contribute to the development of diabetes, but genetic factors can also make someone more susceptible. Genetic factors include having a brother, sister, or parents with T2D, having gestational diabetes while pregnant, being of African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, or Alaskan Native descent.
Type 2 (T2D) develops when your body still makes insulin but not enough, or your body does not recognize the insulin it is making, known as insulin resistance. Your body at first tries to compensate for the insulin not being used properly by making more as your blood sugar rises. However, at some point, the body can't keep up with the demand, which is when diabetes begins to develop.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use the food you eat as energy. When you eat most foods, it is broken down into glucose (sugar) and released into the bloodstream. Insulin is the key to your cells that allows the body to use glucose as energy. Without insulin, blood sugar continues to rise in your bloodstream and can begin to cause long-term damage to your body.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes often does not have any symptoms and is only diagnosed during routine lab work or when people develop an issue associated with high blood sugars like an infection or a complication. So, without symptoms, people often live with elevated blood sugars for a while before receiving a diagnosis.
You aren't in immediate danger just for having high blood sugar. However, regular high blood sugar levels over a long period can lead to complications involving:
- Diseases of the small blood vessels (microvascular), such as eye disease.
- Kidney disease.
- Nerve disease.
- Large blood vessels (macrovascular) disease, including heart disease and stroke.
Symptoms of T2D
As type 2 diabetes develops slowly, you may have it for years before noticing any signs. Potential symptoms include:
- Excessive thirst.
- Needing to urinate frequently.
- An increase in hunger.
- Losing weight unintentionally.
- Feeling tired.
- Blurry vision.
- Sores that take a long time to heal.
- Repeated infections.
- A numb or tingly sensation in the hands or feet.
- Areas of the skin that appear darker, typically in the armpits and neck.
You will work with your doctor to set specific goals for best managing diabetes. Broad goals that are often worked into every diabetes management plan include:
- Keeping blood sugar levels within your target ranges, usually between 70-120mg/dl
- Avoiding high (hyperglycemia) and low (hypoglycemia) blood sugars as much as possible
T2D is considered a progressive disease, meaning that at first, it may be manageable to keep blood sugar levels within target ranges by eating healthy and getting regular physical activity. However, sometimes as the disease progresses, medication, insulin, or both may be needed to help manage blood sugar levels.
Your treatment plan will be individual to your needs; however, T2 diabetes treatment plans generally consist of:
- Eating healthy.
- Getting regular physical activity.
- Losing weight if you are overweight.
- Medications and/or insulin.
- Monitoring your blood sugar level a few times per day or wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
- Practicing effective ways to manage stress (which can increase your blood sugar).
Adjusting to life with T2D
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease that does take some lifestyle changes and time to manage. This is difficult for most people to adjust to, and it is often overwhelming after first receiving a diagnosis. It is normal to be upset, frustrated, and worried. Seek support from your loved ones and diabetes community groups, and ask your healthcare team for additional help in coping with your diabetes if it interferes with your daily life or managing your diabetes.
There are also more resources available that can provide you with information and suggest life hacks to live a happy, productive life with diabetes, so you learn how to incorporate diabetes into your life rather than your life around diabetes.