Type 2 diabetes is a chronic health condition that will require lifelong management. There is currently no known cure, but researchers across the globe are studying the disease and working toward better treatment methods. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
What it is
Healthy bodies produce insulin in order to convert sugar into energy. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body stops responding to insulin produced in the pancreas. When this happens, blood sugar builds up in the blood stream and damages tiny blood vessels throughout the body.
Type 2 diabetes is often called a lifestyle disease because it typically results from poor diet and lack of exercise. However, even healthy people can develop the disease if their body stops processing insulin correctly. This is how type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas produces little to no insulin.
About 90-95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is considered by many healthcare experts to be a global health crisis. About 371 million people around the world have type 2, or about 8.3 percent. In the U.S., type 2 diabetes affects about 30 million Americans, or roughly 10 percent of the population.
Diabetes is expensive and costed the U.S. approximately $327 billion in diabetes management and treatment in 2017. This number is expected to rise in 2018 as more and more people develop the disease.
Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be symptomless and go undetected for years. If you have any of the following symptoms, talk with your doctor about testing your blood sugar to check for type 2 diabetes:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss
- Slow-healing wounds
- Areas of darkened skin around neck or armpits
Although it’s largely considered a lifestyle disease, there are certain risk factors that might make a person more susceptible for developing the disease. Risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Carrying excess weight around the midsection
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Family history of diabetes
- History of gestational diabetes
- History of prediabetes or insulin resistance
- Aged 45 or older
Some races have a higher chance of developing type 2, including those who are:
- African American
- Native American
- Pacific Islander
- Asian American
If diabetes isn’t managed properly, blood sugar can build up in the blood stream and damage tiny blood vessels all over the body, especially in the heart, eyes, and kidneys.
Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the eyes from uncontrolled diabetes and the leading cause of blindness in adults over 45. Symptoms include blurred and distorted vision and impaired color vision. If you have diabetes, it’s important to see your eye doctor annually to make sure your eyes and vision are healthy.
Kidney disease is a serious and sometimes irreversible complication of uncontrolled diabetes. If you have diabetes, your doctor will check the level of albumin in your urine to test your kidney function. If there is too much in the urine, it could mean your kidneys aren’t working properly. In extreme cases, you may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Blood sugar levels
Maintaining health blood sugar levels is incredibly important in treating type 2 diabetes. If blood sugar gets too high, it can affect the way your heart, eyes, and kidneys work and cause long term and sometimes irreversible damage.
If blood sugar gets too low, it can result in hypoglycemia where you experience a rapid heartbeat, sweating, fatigue, confusion, headache, and slurred speech. Hypoglycemia can sometimes happen in the middle of the night, so it’s important to test your blood sugar before you go to bed to make sure your body has enough carbs to process while you’re asleep. If you experience hypoglycemia, you can treat it by drinking orange juice or eating a glucose tablet to bring your blood sugar back to a healthy level.
Diet and exercise
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen is crucial for management of type 2 diabetes. Healthcare professionals often recommend a low-carbohydrate diet like the keto or paleo diet for people with diabetes. If neither of these diets is right for you, try to stick to foods low on the glycemic index (GI) which take longer to digest and help you avoid blood sugar spikes.
Exercise is also important for managing type 2 diabetes and can be viewed as medication. For example, just going for a short walk after dinner can lower your blood sugar almost immediately. Doctors recommend getting about 150 minutes of exercise weekly, or about 30 minutes five times per week.
Try keeping a food and exercise journal so you can track how different foods and exercise affect your blood sugar and make you feel.
A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can be life-altering, but you can manage it with a care team made up of your primary care physician, endocrinologist, and friends and family. Tell your family and friends how they can help you manage your diabetes and accept their help.