A Guide to Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a lifelong metabolic disorder that affects more than 25 million U.S. children and adults—about 90 percent of whom suffer from type 2 diabetes. The bodies of those affected by the disease either can't produce enough insulin or have cells that ignore the insulin. Insulin is vital for fueling the body's cells, and when it can't effectively reach those cells, glucose builds up in the blood, leaving the cells starved for energy and potentially damaging the heart, eyes, kidneys, or nerves.

Understanding Insulin

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), type 2 diabetes was originally known as non-insulin dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes because some people can manage type 2 diabetes with a healthy diet, weight control, and regular exercise. However, many type 2 diabetics need to take insulin to stay healthy.

Those who do require insulin generally have to be injected one to four times daily—an invasive task that can conflict with daily routines. An alternative to insulin injections is the insulin pump, which delivers insulin 24 hours a day through a catheter placed under the skin. What's more, many scientists predict that insulin will soon be available in pill form.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes

Although there is no single cause of type 2 diabetes, there are several factors that can put you at risk. These include:

  • a family history of type 2 diabetes, and/or genetic predisposition
  • low levels of physical activity
  • poor nutrition
  • excess body weight, especially around the middle
  • high blood pressure, or hypertension
  • race or ethnicity (African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are more likely to be affected)
  • age (people 45 or older are at increased risk)
  • a history of impaired glucose tolerance or gestational diabetes
  • an HDL cholesterol of less than 35 mg/dL or triglyceride level of more than 250 mg/dL

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be difficult to identify because many people who are affected don't initially experience symptoms. That said, the following symptoms have all been linked to the disease:

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • increased appetite
  • tiredness, or fatigue
  • blurry vision
  • increased or slow-to-heal infections
  • erectile dysfunction

Type 2 Diabetes Treatment Options

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have type 2 diabetes, it's important to consult with a medical professional. A doctor will typically use a fast blood-glucose test, a random (non-fasting) blood-glucose test, and/or an oral glucose test to make a diagnosis. He or she can discuss options with you so that you can determine the best course of treatment.

In general, type 2 diabetes management focuses on learning the following skills:

  • self-testing your blood-sugar levels
  • regular physical activity
  • following a foot-care regimen
  • adhering to prescribed medicinal treatment

In addition, it's important for type 2 diabetics to take control of their diet and nutrition. That includes choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt, and consuming alcoholic beverages only in moderation. Type 2 diabetics should also make time to exercise daily and maintain a healthy weight.