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Getting the Right Diabetes Treatment

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A Guide to Type 2 Diabetes

Medically Reviewed By Marina Basina, M.D.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that means your body does not respond well to insulin, the hormone that manages blood sugar. High blood sugar levels can lead to severe health disorders. However, treatment can reduce the risks or severity of complications. Type 2 diabetes was once known as adult-onset diabetes because it used to be more common in adults. However, it can occur at any age.

Diabetes is a common but serious chronic health condition.

Still, lifestyle changes and medication can relieve symptoms, prevent or limit complications, and improve your quality of life.

Key facts about type 2 diabetes

  • Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes high blood sugar or glucose levels.
  • It is caused by the body not producing enough or responding well to insulin.
  • Symptoms may not always be noticeable but can include excessive thirst, frequent urination, and itchiness.
  • Diet strategies, physical activity, and medication can effectively manage type 2 diabetes.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Someone uses a finger prick device to test their blood sugar.
Maskot/Getty Images

The pancreas makes insulin to help cells absorb sugar — also known as glucose — from your blood.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t respond well to insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance. As a result, your blood sugar levels may be too high.

With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas may also try to produce more insulin Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source to get the cells to absorb more sugar. However, the pancreas may eventually be unable to keep up, and blood sugar levels are still high.

High blood sugar levels can damage your health and lead to other conditions, such as heart or kidney disease and vision loss.

Type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system damages Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source the pancreatic cells that make insulin, known as beta cells.

In contrast, people with type 2 diabetes have undamaged beta cells.

What are the stages of type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes can progress in several stages over time.

First, the body develops insulin resistance and cannot produce enough insulin. This may cause prediabetes, which is when blood sugar levels are higher than usual but not enough to be considered type 2 diabetes yet.

At this stage, lifestyle approaches and sometimes medication may help delay or prevent Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source type 2 diabetes.

However, prediabetes will still progress to type 2 diabetes in some people.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes may not cause any symptoms at first. Symptoms may take several years to develop or become noticeable and may then include:

  • excessive thirst or hunger
  • increased urination, especially at night
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • itchiness, especially around the genital area
  • frequent infections, such as thrush
  • wounds or cuts that heal slowly
  • blurry vision
  • tingling in the hands or feet

If you have any of these symptoms, talk with a doctor as soon as possible.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance and the body not being able to produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance. However, researchers are unsure what causes insulin resistance.

Still, experts generally believe that a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors may cause type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

The following factors may contribute to type 2 diabetes.

What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?

Factors that can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes developing include:

  • experiencing overweight or obesity
  • not getting enough physical activity
  • having excess fat around the abdomen
  • having a family history of type 2 diabetes

People of certain races or heritage also have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, including people who are:

  • African American
  • Alaska Natives
  • American Indian
  • Asian American
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Native Hawaiian
  • Pacific Islanders

Researchers suggest that socioeconomic inequities affecting health are one reason for these higher risks.

How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

In addition to asking about your symptoms and medical history and performing a physical exam, your doctor will run several tests to reach a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. These tests include:

  • fasting plasma glucose test
  • oral glucose tolerance test
  • glycated hemoglobin A1C test
  • random blood sugar test

Read more about the types of blood tests for type 2 diabetes.

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

The primary goal of diabetes treatment is to keep your blood sugar levels within a target range set by your doctor.

For some people, lifestyle approaches are enough to manage diabetes. Others may also benefit from medication.

In some cases, diabetes treatment can temporarily lower blood sugar levels too much, known as hypoglycemia Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . Quickly eating or drinking something with added sugars can help stop hypoglycemia.

Lifestyle approaches

Lifestyle approaches are a key part of type 2 diabetes treatment and can include Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source :

  • regularly testing your blood sugar levels at home
  • following a diet as recommended by a doctor or a registered dietitian
  • monitoring or limiting your intake of carbohydrates and sugary foods
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • getting regular physical activity
  • managing stress

Read more about diet for type 2 diabetes.

Oral medications

Medications for type 2 diabetes can include:

  • biguanides, which can make muscle cells more sensitive to insulin and decrease sugar production in the liver
  • DPP-4 inhibitors, which boost incretin — a hormone that helps lower blood sugar levels only when they are high
  • SGLT2 inhibitors, which allow your body to get rid of extra sugar in the urine instead of reabsorbing it
  • sulfonylureas, which help stimulate the pancreas to release insulin
  • thiazolidinediones, which increase insulin sensitivity in your cells and decrease sugar production in the liver

Learn more about oral medications for type 2 diabetes.

Injected medications

Injectable medications for type 2 diabetes can include GLP-1 agonists. This group of medications mimic a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 to regulate blood sugar after meals and decrease appetite.

Doctors may also prescribe insulin injections to replace the insulin your body would typically make.

Read more about GLP-1 medications for diabetes.

What are the complications of type 2 diabetes?

Over time, unmanaged high blood sugar levels can cause bodily damage that lead to complications such as:

  • gum disease and tooth decay
  • cardiovascular disease
  • eye disease and vision loss
  • kidney failure
  • nerve damage
  • skin conditions
  • increased infections
  • foot problems
  • limb amputation

However, effective treatment can help reduce the risks or severity of complications.

Can you prevent type 2 diabetes?

Yes, type 2 diabetes is sometimes preventable Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source .

Methods to help reduce the risk Trusted Source Department of Health and Human Services Governmental authority Go to source of type 2 diabetes include:

  • talking with your doctor about your risk — this can include testing for prediabetes
  • eating a diet as recommended by a doctor or a registered dietitian
  • limiting foods high in trans or saturated fats, added sugars, and salt
  • getting enough physical activity
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • having regular checkups with your doctor, including blood pressure and cholesterol tests
  • following your doctor’s treatment recommendations for any health conditions you have
  • avoiding smoking

See more advice for preventing type 2 diabetes.

What is the outlook of type 2 diabetes?

The outlook of type 2 diabetes can vary and depend on your treatment.

Having unmanaged high blood sugar levels over time can lead to serious complications. Treatment that manages blood sugar levels can lead to positive outcomes and prevent or reduce complications.

Does type 2 diabetes shorten life expectancy?

Yes, in some cases, diabetes can shorten life expectancy.

According to a 2022 study Trusted Source JAMA Peer reviewed journal Go to source , the life expectancy of people age 50 with type 2 diabetes may be 6 years shorter than people without diabetes.

However, meeting treatment goals and following lifestyle approaches may add years back to life expectancy for a person with type 2 diabetes.

Summary

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which your body does not produce enough or respond well to insulin. This can lead to high blood sugar or glucose levels, which may cause serious health complications.

Treatment involves lifestyle approaches and medication to help keep blood sugar levels within target ranges.

Talk with your doctor if you have any new or persistent symptoms or questions about type 2 diabetes.

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Medical Reviewer: Marina Basina, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2024 Mar 13
View All Getting the Right Diabetes Treatment Articles
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