Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms, Signs, Diet, and Treatment

  • Medical Author:
    Erica Oberg, ND, MPH

    Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Reviewer: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Type 2 Diabetes Warning Signs

Type 2 diabetes definition and facts

  • Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which cells cannot use blood sugar (glucose) efficiently for energy. This happens when the cells become insensitive to insulin and the blood sugar gradually gets too high.
  • There are two types of diabetes mellitus, type 1 and type 2. In type 2, the pancreas still makes insulin, but the cells cannot use it very efficiently. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot make insulin due to auto-immune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells.
  • Type 2 can be caused by:
  • Risk factors include:
    • Having family members with diabetes
    • Being overweight
    • Being sedentary including watching more than 2 hours of TV per day
    • Drinking soda
    • Consuming too much sugar and processed food
  • The signs and symptoms of this type of this type of diabetes are sometimes subtle. The major symptom is often being overweight. Other symptoms and signs include:
    • Excess thirst
    • Urinating a lot
    • Gaining or losing weight unintentionally
    • Dark skin under armpits, chin, or groin
    • Fatigue
    • Unusual odor to urine
    • Blurry vision
  • Often there are no specific symptoms of the condition and it goes undiagnosed until routine blood tests are ordered.
  • A blood sugar level more than 125 when fasting or more than 200 randomly is a diagnosis for diabetes.
  • Treatment is with diet and lifestyle changes that include eating less sugary foods, and foods that are high in simple carbohydrates (sugar, bread, and pasta.)
  • Sometimes a person will need to take drugs, for example, metformin (Glucophage).
  • People with both types of diabetes need monitor their blood sugar levels often to avoid high (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia).
  • Complications include heart and kidney disease, neuropathy, sexual and/or urinary problems, foot problems, and eye problems.
  • This health condition can be prevented by following a low glycemic load diet, staying physically active, and getting regular medical screenings.
  • The prognosis for a person with this health condition is estimated to be a life expectancy of 10 years less than a person without diabetes. However, good blood sugar control and taking steps to prevent complications is shortening this gap and people with the condition are living longer than ever before. It can be reversed with diligent attention to changing lifestyle behaviors.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It is a chronic problem in which blood glucose (sugar) can no longer be regulated. There are two reasons for this. First, the cells of the body become resistant to insulin (insulin resistant). Insulin works like a key to let glucose (blood sugar) move out of the blood and into the cells where it is used as fuel for energy. When the cells become insulin resistant, it requires more and more insulin to move sugar into the cells, and too much sugar stays in the blood. Over time, if the cells require more and more insulin, the pancreas can't make enough insulin to keep up and begins to fail.

What is the difference between type 2 and type 1 diabetes?

  • If you have type 2, you can lower high blood sugar levels with diet, exercise, and oral drugs that either make the body more sensitive to insulin or help the pancreas release more insulin.
  • In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot make any insulin and people have to depend on injections of insulin to lower blood sugar.
  • Over time, people with type 2 also can require insulin. This happens when the pancreas "wears out."

What causes type 2 diabetes, and is it reversible?

This type of diabetes is caused by a combination of genetics and unhealthy lifestyle habits.

  • Some ethnic groups have a higher inherited incidence of it. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific islanders are all at increased risk.
  • Other causes include unhealthy lifestyle habits, for example, if you:
    • Eat too much sugar and carbohydrates
    • Eat or drink foods with artificial sweeteners
    • Don't get enough exercise
    • Are under chronic, high stress

As mentioned previously, this disease can be reversed with diligent attention to changing lifestyle behaviors.

Who gets type 2 diabetes (risk factors)?

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes are:

What lifestyle factors affect my chances of getting this type of diabetes?

Lifestyle habits can contribute to a person developing the disease, for example:

  • If you are overweight or obese
  • If you are sedentary (you don't exercise and are not physically active)
  • If you watch more than 2 hours of TV per day.
  • If you drink artificially sweetened or sugar sweetened products. These products increase your risk by 26%-67%.
  • Economic stress. People who live in the lowest-income circumstances have two and a half times greater the risk of developing the disease.

Quick GuideDiabetes Diet: Healthy Meal Plans for Diabetes-Friendly Eating

Diabetes Diet: Healthy Meal Plans for Diabetes-Friendly Eating

Type 2 Diabetes Diet Plans

Diet recommendations for people with type 2 diabetes include a

  • vegetarian or vegan diet,
  • the American Diabetes Association diet (which also emphasizes exercise),
  • the Paleo Diet, and
  • the Mediterranean diet.

Type 2 diabetes symptoms and signs

This type of diabetes develops gradually, over years, so the signs and symptoms can seem subtle, and you might think it is something you "just have to live with." If you are overweight or obese, this is the major symptom, but not everyone will be overweight. In fact, weight loss can be a symptom.

Other symptoms and signs include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Excess thirst
  4. Blurry or cloudy vision
  5. Wounds that won't heal
  6. Tingling or numbness in the feet
  7. Erectile dysfunction (ED)
  8. Dark skin under the armpits and around the groin

Low blood sugar symptoms and signs

Type 2 diabetes is a condition of blood sugar dysregulation. In general blood sugar is too high, but it also can be too low. This can happen if you take medications then skip a meal. Blood sugar also can rise very quickly after a high glycemic index meal, and then fall a few hours later, plummeting into hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia can include

  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling sweaty or clammy
  • Vision changes, like blurring or narrowing of the visual field
  • Feeling physically weak
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Feeling irritable

High blood sugar symptoms and signs

Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, is common in type 2 diabetes.Its signs and symptoms can be either acute (short in duration) or chronic (last over a long period of time).

Acute symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling vision is blurry or foggy
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling very thirsty

Chronic signs and symptoms can include:

What if I have type 2 diabetes and become pregnant?

If you are a diabetic and are pregnant you can have a normal, healthy pregnancy, but you need to take extra steps to avoid gaining excess weight and high blood sugars. Lifestyle habits (eating primarily vegetables and lean protein and exercising every day) will prevent problems during pregnancy. If you are a diabetic and become pregnant, monitor your blood sugar levels often. Talk with your doctor about exploring additional health care professionals, for example, a nutritionist, health coach, or naturopathic doctor about a healthy eating plan. If your blood sugar gets out of control you may:

  • Have a large baby
  • Get pre-eclampsia
  • Have a premature birth

Is there a blood test to diagnose type 2 diabetes?

Yes, there is a blood test to diagnose this disease. The blood is tested for glucose and if it is greater than 125 fasting, or more than 200 when randomly tested, the diagnosis is diabetes If the fasting blood sugar is between 100-125, the person has a diagnosis of pre-diabetes.

Tests also can measure average blood sugar over time. Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test greater than 6.5% indicates the diagnosis of the disease. Pre-diabetes is diagnosed with an HbA1c of 5.7% - 6.4%

What is the treatment for type 2 diabetes?

Treatment for this type of diabetes can include:

Not diabetic need drug therapy. A healthy eating plan and exercise alone can be enough it the person makes significant lifestyle changes. Other signs, symptoms, and complications also may need treatment. For example, nutritional deficiencies should be corrected, heart or kidney disease may need to be treated, and vision must be checked for eye problems like diabetic retinopathy.

Is there a type 2 diabetes diet plan?

If you have this type of diabetes the foods you eat should have a low glycemic load (index) (foods higher in fiber, protein or fats) like vegetables and good quality protein such as fish, chicken, beans, and lentils. From that base, other types of nutritious foods like fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and nuts should be added.

Foods with a high glycemic index (foods that raise blood sugar too quickly) are foods to avoid, such as processed foods, high in carbohydrates, sugars, or animal fat. Examples of foods to avoid include:

  • Deserts
  • Sweets
  • Pastries
  • Breads
  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Pasta

A good rule of thumb is to avoid white foods (except for cauliflower!).

Can exercise help manage type 2 diabetes?

Exercise is very important if you have this health condition. Exercise makes cells more insulin sensitive, pulling glucose out of the blood. This brings down blood sugar, and more importantly, gives you better energy because the glucose is being transferred to the cells. Any type of exercise will do this, but extra benefit is gained when the activity helps build muscle, such as weight training or using resistance bands. The benefits of exercise on blood sugar last about 48-72 hours, so it is important for you to be physically active almost every day.

Do people with type 2 diabetes have to take insulin?

Insulin is only recommended for individuals for type 2 diabetics when they have not been able to get blood sugars low enough to prevent complications through other means. To avoid insulin, those with this health condition should work very hard to follow a healthy eating plan that includes a lot of vegetables and lean proteins, exercise every day, and keep stress in perspective. They also should take their oral drugs regularly. It can be difficult to follow these recommendations and the help of your doctor, nutritionist, diabetes educator, health coach, or integrative medicine practitioner may be helpful. If you who want to avoid taking medicine, work with health professionals who are knowledgeable about lifestyle medicine, and can help you understand how to fit the changes into your life.

What medications treat type 2 diabetes?

There are different types of diabetes drugs. They work in different ways to either stop the liver from making glucose, make the pancreas release more insulin, or block glucose from being absorbed. Insulin replaces the natural insulin when the pancreas can't make anymore.

Metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Fortamet, Riomet)

Metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Fortamet, Riomet) belongs to a class of drugs called biguanides. Metformin is first-line therapy for most type 2 diabetics. It works to stop the liver from making excess glucose, and has a low risk of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, or very low blood sugar can cause symptoms such as sweating, nervousness, heart palpitations, weakness, intense hunger, trembling, and problems speaking. Many patients lose some weight taking metformin, which is also helpful for blood sugar control.

Sulfonureas and meglitinides

Sulfonureas and meglitinides are classes of drugs also prescribed for treatment. These drugs cause the pancreas to release more insulin. Since the pancreas can only work so hard, these drugs have a limited duration of usefulness.

The sulfonureas include:

The meglitinides include:

Canagliflozin (Invokana) and dapagliflozin (Farxiga)

Canagliflozin (Invokana) and dapagliflozin (Farxiga) are oral medications prescribed to treat type 2 diabetics. These drugs belong to the drug class referred to as sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors. These drugs work by stopping the absorption of glucose in the kidneys, enabling some of it to be urinated out.

Other type 2 diabetes medications

There are other oral and injectable drugs for patients with type 2 diabetics such as:

For people who want to avoid drugs, taking an aggressive approach to healthy eating plan and lifestyle change is an option. It isn't easy, but if someone is very committed and motivated, lifestyle changes can be enough to maintain a healthy blood sugar level and to lose weight. Learning about a healthy diabetes diet (a low glycemic load diet) can be an good place to start.

Quick GuideDiabetes Diet: Healthy Meal Plans for Diabetes-Friendly Eating

Diabetes Diet: Healthy Meal Plans for Diabetes-Friendly Eating

What are the complications of type 2 diabetes?

If blood sugar is not controlled over time, complications can develop. These include:

If you have diabetes you have a higher risk of heart disease and heart attack. Because of this, it is important to control cholesterol and high blood pressure in addition to blood sugar. The good news is that all of these diseases are responsive to healthy lifestyle changes.

Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

A healthy lifestyle can prevent almost all cases of type 2 diabetes. A large research study called the Diabetes Prevention Program, found that patients who made intensive changes including diet and exercise, reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58%. Patients who were over 60 years old seemed to experience extra benefit; they reduced their risk by 71%. In comparison, patients who were given the drug metformin for prevention only reduced their risk by 31%.

What is the prognosis and life-expectancy for someone with type 2 diabetes?

Some research shows that people with type 2 diabetes may die 10 years earlier than those without diabetes. Most people with the disease die of secondary complications of it, for example kidney failure or heart disease. However, with good blood sugar control and healthy lifestyle choices complications can be prevented.

Which specialties of doctors treat type 2 diabetes?

Adult and pediatric endocrinologists, specialists in treating hormone imbalances and disorders of the endocrine system, are experts in helping patients with diabetes manage their disease. People with the disease also may be cared for by a number of primary care providers including family or internal medicine practitioners, naturopathic doctors, or nurse practitioners. When complications arise, these patients often consult other specialists, including neurologists, gastroenterologists, ophthalmologists, acupuncturists, surgeons, and cardiologists. Nutritionists, integrative and functional medicine doctors, and physical activity experts such as personal trainers are also important members of a diabetes treatment team. It is important to interview a new health care professional about their experience, expertise, and credentials to make sure they are well qualified to help you.

REFERENCES:

Diabetes in the UK 2012. Key statistics on diabetes. Accessed 6-20-15
<https://www.diabetes.org.uk/documents/reports/diabetes-in-the-uk-2012.pdf>

Grøntved A., et al. "Television viewing and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis."JAMA. 2011 Jun 15;305(23):2448-55.

Malik VS, et al. "Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis." Diabetes Care. 2010 Nov;33(11):2477-83.

Nettleton JA. et al. "Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)."Diabetes Care. 2009 Apr;32(4):688-94.

NIH. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).< http://www.niddk.nih.gov/about-niddk/research-areas/diabetes/diabetes-prevention-program-dpp/Pages/default.aspx>

Ross R. "Does exercise without weight loss improve insulin sensitivity?" Diabetes Care. 2003 Mar;26(3):944-5. Review.

Suez, J. et al. "Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota." Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6.

Last Editorial Review: 3/21/2017

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Reviewed on 3/21/2017
References
REFERENCES:

Diabetes in the UK 2012. Key statistics on diabetes. Accessed 6-20-15
<https://www.diabetes.org.uk/documents/reports/diabetes-in-the-uk-2012.pdf>

Grøntved A., et al. "Television viewing and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis."JAMA. 2011 Jun 15;305(23):2448-55.

Malik VS, et al. "Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis." Diabetes Care. 2010 Nov;33(11):2477-83.

Nettleton JA. et al. "Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)."Diabetes Care. 2009 Apr;32(4):688-94.

NIH. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).< http://www.niddk.nih.gov/about-niddk/research-areas/diabetes/diabetes-prevention-program-dpp/Pages/default.aspx>

Ross R. "Does exercise without weight loss improve insulin sensitivity?" Diabetes Care. 2003 Mar;26(3):944-5. Review.

Suez, J. et al. "Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota." Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6.

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