Tell me – what is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 is by far the most common form of diabetes, affecting 85-90% of all people with diabetes worldwide. Type 2 is caused when the hormone insulin, which is produced in your pancreas, can’t work properly (a problem called insulin resistance) or you cannot produce enough of it to maintain normal blood glucose levels. Diet and exercise are the first lines of treatment but, because it is a progressive condition, most people with type 2 will eventually need oral medications and possibly insulin.
Who is at risk?
Type 2 has no single cause, but there are a number of major risk factors that contribute to its development, including being overweight or obese, not getting enough exercise and eating a poor diet. Your risk is also increased if you:
- Have a family history of type 2
- Are over 55 years old – your risk increases as you get older
- Are over 45 and overweight, especially around your waistline
- Are over 45 and have high blood pressure
- Are over 35 and have a Maori, Pacific Islander, south-east Asian, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background
- Have had gestational diabetes, or have given birth to a baby over 4kg
- Have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
While the majority of people diagnosed with type 2 are over the age of 40, rising rates of obesity around the world mean that it is being found in a growing number of children and young people.
What are the symptoms?
Many people with type 2 have no symptoms at all before being diagnosed. Others may experience:
- Excessive thirst
- Passing more urine
- Feeling tired and lethargic
- Always feeling hungry
- Having cuts that heal slowly
- Itching, skin infections
- Blurred vision
- Gradually putting on weight
- Mood swings
- Leg cramps
How is type 2 diagnosed?
Type 2 is typically diagnosed through a blood glucose test, measuring the amount of glucose in your blood at the time of the test. Your doctor may order additional tests if your results are borderline.
So I’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 – how can I manage it effectively?
Keeping your blood glucose levels in the normal range is the best way to manage your type 2 in both the short and the long term. It’s important to discuss your individual targets with your care team, as factors including whether you are taking medication for your diabetes – and the type of medication you are taking, whether you are at risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels), your age, lifestyle and other circumstances may affect the numbers you should be aiming for.
The key to maintaining normal blood glucose levels (and to being healthy in general) is to eat balanced, nutritious meals, maintain a healthy body weight, and get regular physical activity most, if not all days of the week. Your GP or diabetes educator may also direct you to monitor your blood glucose levels, which can help identify what triggers spikes in your levels
I was recently diagnosed with type 2, and have been told that I need to start using medication. Is it because I haven’t been exercising or eating well enough?
Not necessarily. Type 2 is a progressive condition, and usually by the time you’ve been diagnosed, half of your pancreas’s insulin production has ceased. This means that over time, it’s inevitable that you will need to add medication to your diet and exercise regime in order to maintain your health, and your blood glucose levels. So if you’ve been doing your best with lifestyle changes, it’s not a failure on your part – it’s simply a natural progression of your diabetes. Feeling a little better? Yes? Great!
Can type 2 be cured?
Some people are able to reverse their type 2 diabetes (i.e.: to get their blood glucose levels back in the normal range without medication) through making changes to their diet and activity levels. But your genetic risk doesn’t change, and because diabetes is progressive, your blood glucose levels may rise again over time. So do your best to make changes to your diet and increase your exercise – but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t reverse it! Instead, feel proud that you are taking responsibility for your health. Any lifestyle changes you can make will reduce your need for medication, slow down the progression of your diabetes, and increase your overall health, too.
Pay it forward
Do your friends and family a favour by making them aware of the prevalence of type 2. If they take action now, they will improve their chances of preventing it.