Understanding the symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be an important first step towards successful treatment and living a healthier life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 34 million Americans are living with diabetes — approximately one in 10 — and that 90-95% of those are people with type 2 diabetes.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes symptoms can be similar to type 1 diabetes symptoms, and some of the treatment approaches, like the use of insulin therapy, are similar. However, the two types of diabetes should not be confused.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce any or enough insulin — the hormone that allows sugar (glucose) to be used as energy. Insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are perceived to be a threat by the body’s immune system. It is still unknown what causes type 1 diabetes — which is typically diagnosed in children and adolescents — and there is no cure.
Type 2 diabetes, however, is a condition that can develop slowly over time for a number of reasons. With type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin, so it has trouble using insulin to metabolize glucose. This leads to high blood sugars which, if left unchecked, can lead to a number of complications, including kidney damage, heart disease, and glaucoma.
Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms
(Please note that the following symptoms may not be an indication of type 2 diabetes for all individuals. Please consult a healthcare professional for further information.)
These are some of the more common symptoms of type 2 diabetes:
Frequent urination: This can occur because there is too much glucose in the blood and the kidneys are forced to flush it out through urine
Atypical hunger: Excessive hunger can happen because the cells can’t convert blood sugar into energy
Fatigue, sometimes extreme: With type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to properly create energy, which can lead to fatigue
Blurred vision: Large amounts of glucose can cause swelling inside the eyes. This complication can last for several weeks or more.
Tingling or numbness in extremities (such as hands or feet, for example): This is typically a form of nerve damage that occurs over a long period of time because of high blood sugar levels
Wounds could take longer to heal: High blood sugars can delay wound healing
Causes of Type 2 Diabetes
Where type 1 diabetes is a condition caused by the body’s immune system attacking insulin producing cells in the pancreas (an autoimmune disease), type 2 diabetes can be brought on by a number of factors. It’s also noteworthy that type 2 diabetes has a strong genetic component to it and certain people are more likely to develop it than others.
Primarily, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin and isn’t able to properly use the insulin it makes.
Having a firmer grasp on type 2 diabetes symptoms and causes can help to better understand the risk factors. It’s important to know that type 2 diabetes can be well managed with a combination of some lifestyle changes (changes to diet and exercise) as well as medications (such as oral or injectable agents).
Over time, a number of people with type 2 diabetes may progress from needing one, two, or even three medications, to then requiring treatment with insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors for Men, Women, and Children
While the actual causes of type 2 diabetes remain uncertain, there are some factors that researchers can point to that are believed to increase risk. (Please note that the following risk factors may not be an indication of type 2 diabetes for all individuals. Please consult a healthcare professional for further information.)
Some risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- A high-fat, carbohydrate-heavy diet
- High cholesterol
- Weight gain
- Smoking/tobacco use
Note that not all of these risk factors can be modified by the individual. For example, you cannot change someone’s age or ethnicity. There are some risk factors in women that may differ from those in men. However, the type 2 diabetes symptoms in men and type 2 diabetes symptoms in women are similar.
Women should be aware of the above risk factors, as well as:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Gestational diabetes
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children are similar to those in adults. But just as there are specific risk factors for men and women, there is also at least one risk factor for children that is worth noting. If a child is born to a mother who had gestational diabetes, it is important to be aware that this could be a risk factor in that child.
What is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes, also known as insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance, is an early sign of developing diabetes. Some people will have high blood sugars after meals only, for example, before they eventually have high blood sugars all day. Usually with prediabetes, blood sugars are not high enough to diagnose diabetes, but are high enough to indicate diabetes could be developing.
While increasing physical activity, weight loss, eating a healthy diet, and stopping smoking all can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, for many people, this does not completely prevent the progression. Talk with your doctor, as prediabetes can also be treated with medications which can help reduce insulin resistance. People with prediabetes can also be at risk for other conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other conditions that may need to be treated, even if they appear before a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is made.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes in Children
Type 2 diabetes in children used to be rare. However, as childhood obesity rates increase, so too have the rates of type 2 diabetes in children. There are some critical steps parents and family members can take to help reduce the risk and possibly prevent type 2 diabetes from developing.
Note that many of these suggestions aren’t just applicable to children. Living a healthy lifestyle, complete with a nutritious diet and recommended exercise, can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in people of all ages.
- Aim for at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity
- Grocery shop and meal plan as a family and teach children to read food labels
- Substitute water or sugar free / diet drinks for sugary drinks and sodas
- Go for family walks
- Limit screen time and promote more outdoor activities
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Recognizing type 2 diabetes symptoms is an important first step.
While it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet or exercise plan, it’s been shown that balanced food choices, more physical activity, and healthy outlets for coping with stress, can mitigate some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes in women, type 2 diabetes in men, and type 2 diabetes in children.
Unless otherwise noted, all medical information was provided by Jordan Pinsker, MD, and Molly McElwee Malloy, RN, CDCES of Tandem Diabetes Care, Inc.