Diabetes type 2: Causes, symptoms and treatments

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which your body does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin it produces does not work properly (insulin resistance).

Insulin allows blood sugar (glucose) to enter cells, which is used as energy fuel.

Over time, high levels of glucose can damage organs including blood vessels, leading to deadly complications like heart disease and stroke.

What is diabetes type 2?

Diabetes type 2 is a chronic progressive and metabolic disease. 

It occurs when the body is unable to make enough insulin, or when cells don’t respond to insulin properly.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted due to the stimulation from rising blood glucose. Insulin enables the uptake of blood glucose into cells thus reducing the glucose levels in the blood.

When insulin does not respond, the uptake is reduced, and blood glucose rises. 

It usually begins in adulthood, and the causes are multifactorial. Physical inactivity,(sedentary life), obesity, ageing, ethnicity (Asian and African) and genetics plays a role in the development of diabetes type2. 

People with diabetes may have symptoms such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue and blurred vision. They also are at risk of developing serious health problems like heart disease or stroke.

How is diabetes type 2 diagnosed?

If the patient has symptoms such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision and frequent infections, we have to suspect diabetes. 

A blood test can be carried out the check for rising blood glucose. 

  1. Glycosylated Haemoglobin (HbA1c) level is an accurate indicator. The interpretation of HbA1c values is given below,
    • Less than 5.6% – Normal
    • 5.7% to 6.4% – Prediabetes
    • More than 6.5% – Diabetes

2. Fasting Blood Glucose (FBG) tests also can be used to diagnose. In the case of asymptomatic patients, it requires two FBG values to arrive at a decision. However, if the patient has features of diabetes one FBG value is adequate to confirm the diagnosis. The interpretation of HbA1c values is given below,

  • Less than 100 mg/dl – Normal
  • 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl – Prediabetes
  • More than 126 mg/dl – Diabetes 

3. In addition, the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) is also used to diagnose. 

Who is at risk for type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a multi-factorial disease. The following factors are known to increase your risk for type 2 diabetes:

  • Age. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases sharply after age 45, especially in overweight people or with a family history of the disease.
  • Family history. If you’ve had type 2 diabetes in a parent or sibling, you’re at higher risk too. If it runs in the family, you’ll most likely inherit a tendency to develop it unless you change your lifestyle.
  • Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk—your body mass index (BMI) should be below 25 if you want to avoid this disease. Obesity increases insulin resistance. 
  • Physical inactivity is another big factor.  Being active reduces this risk by lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity. Exercise also helps prevent obesity.
  • Unhealthy habits such as excessive use of alcohol and smoking increase the risk of getting diabetes. 

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are usually mild in the initial stage, but when the disease progresses, there are several signs and symptoms. They include;

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased urination
  • Required to pass urine at sleep (also known as nocturia) 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness or numbness in hands and feet
  • Acanthosis Nigricans (Black velvety discolouration) in the neck and axilla. 

If the disease is not well controlled, it can progress into the development of complications such as elevated blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, frequent infections, leg wounds (sometimes amputation) 

Prevention of type 2 diabetes

If you’re at risk of diabetes, here are some things you can do to help prevent it:

  • Lose weight. Having excess body fat raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Get regular physical activity. Exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood glucose levels in people with prediabetes or diabetes.
  • Eat healthy foods daily, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to manage your weight.
  • Drink responsibly. Take care not to exceed the recommended daily limits. 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women. 
  • Quit smoking

How is diabetes type 2 treated?

Diabetes type 2 is a chronic condition that requires treatment. You can manage your blood sugar levels with proper lifestyle modification and medication.

  1. Lifestyle modification – This includes healthy eating and regular physical exercises. Healthy lifestyle practices are the most effective for the control of diabetes. Exercise helps to prevent obesity. It also improves insulin sensitivity. 
  2. The next step is adding oral glucose-lowering medications (oral hypoglycaemics)
  3. Insulin injections

A combination of these methods is used to treat depending on several factors such as severity, response, patient compliance and presence of complication.

Newer methods are emerging to treat diabetes such as methods that target the gut microbiome and nanoparticles that slow down the digestion and absorption of foods.  

The Bottom Line

Type 2 diabetes is a serious illness if not controlled properly. There can be deadly complications such as heart attack, stroke, limb loss, kidney failure and blindness. 

The cause is multifactorial, but a sedentary lifestyle and obesity increase the disease risk. 

Treatment involves lifestyle modification (healthy eating and regular physical activity), oral medications and insulin injections. These modalities are used in isolation or combinations depending on disease severity, response, patient compliance, and complication status. 

Selfcare for diabetes is the most effective method where you play an active role in managing it. When done right, you can live a normal life. 

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