Diabetes is a chronic medical condition in which sugar, or glucose, levels build up in your bloodstream. The hormone insulin helps move the glucose from your blood into your cells, where it’s used for energy.
In type 2 diabetes, your body’s cells aren’t able to respond to insulin as well as they should. In later stages of the disease, your body may also not produce enough insulin.
Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can lead to chronically high blood glucose levels, causing several symptoms and potentially leading to serious complications.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, your body isn’t able to effectively use insulin to bring glucose into your cells. This causes your body to rely on alternative energy sources in your tissues, muscles, and organs. This is a chain reaction that can cause a variety of symptoms.
Type 2 diabetes can develop slowly. The symptoms may be mild and easy to dismiss at first. The early symptoms may include:
- constant hunger
- a lack of energy
- weight loss
- excessive thirst
- frequent urination
- dry mouth
- itchy skin
- blurry vision
As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more severe and potentially dangerous.
If your blood glucose levels have been high for a long time, the symptoms can include:
- yeast infections
- slow-healing cuts or sores
- dark patches on your skin, a condition known as acanthosis nigricans
- foot pain
- feelings of numbness in your extremities, or neuropathy
If you have two or more of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Without treatment, diabetes can become life-threatening. Discover other symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Causes of type 2 diabetes
Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone. Your pancreas produces it and releases it when you eat. Insulin helps transport glucose from your bloodstream to cells throughout your body, where it’s used for energy.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body becomes resistant to insulin. Your body is no longer using the hormone efficiently. This forces your pancreas to work harder to make more insulin.
Over time, this can damage cells in your pancreas. Eventually, your pancreas may not be able to produce any insulin.
If you don’t produce enough insulin or if your body doesn’t use it efficiently, glucose builds up in your bloodstream. This leaves your body’s cells starved for energy. Doctors don’t know exactly what triggers this series of events.
It may have to do with cell dysfunction in the pancreas or with cell signaling and regulation. In some people, the liver produces too much glucose. There may be a genetic predisposition to developing type 2 diabetes.
There’s definitely a genetic predisposition to obesity, which increases the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. There could also be an environmental trigger.
Most likely, it’s a combination of factors that increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Find out more about the causes of diabetes.
Treatment for type 2 diabetes
Follow these tips to manage type 2 diabetes:
- Include foods rich in fiber and healthy carbohydrates in your diet. Eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help keep your blood glucose levels steady.
- Eat at regular intervals
- Only eat until you’re full.
- Control your weight and keep your heart healthy. That means keeping refined carbohydrates, sweets, and animal fats to a minimum.
- Get about half an hour of aerobic activity daily to help keep your heart healthy. Exercise helps to control blood glucose, too.
Your doctor will explain how to recognize the early symptoms of blood sugar that’s too high or too low and what to do in each situation. They’ll also help you learn which foods are healthy and which foods aren’t.
Not everyone with type 2 diabetes needs to use insulin. If you do, it’s because your pancreas isn’t making enough insulin on its own. It’s crucial that you take insulin as directed. There are other prescription medications that may help as well.
Medications for type 2 diabetes
- metformin, which can lower your blood glucose levels and improve how your body responds to insulin — it’s the preferred treatment for most people with type 2 diabetes
- sulfonylureas, which are oral medications that help your body make more insulin
- meglitinides, which are fast-acting, short-duration medications that stimulate your pancreas to release more insulin
- thiazolidinediones, which make your body more sensitive to insulin
- dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors, which are milder medications that help reduce blood glucose levels
- glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, which slow digestion and improve blood glucose levels
- sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, which help prevent the kidneys from reabsorbing glucose into the blood and sending it out in your urine
Each of these medications can cause side effects. It may take some time to find the best medication or combination of medications to treat your diabetes.
If your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are a problem, you may need medications to address those needs as well.
If your body can’t make enough insulin, you may need insulin therapy. You may only need a long-acting injection you can take at night, or you may need to take insulin several times per day. Learn about other medications that can help you manage diabetes.