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Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms and Causes

Posted on November 29, 2019

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is an often life-long condition that causes a person’s blood sugar levels to become too high. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that results in hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose levels) due to the body being ineffective at using the insulin it has produced; also known as insulin resistance and/or being unable to produce enough insulin. The symptoms may not always make a person feel unwell.

Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the body being unable to metabolise glucose (a simple sugar). This leads to high levels of blood glucose which over time may damage the organs of the body.

This is why people with diabetes are advised to avoid sources of dietary sugar.

The good news is for many people with type 2 diabetes this is all they have to do to stay well. If you can keep your blood sugar lower by avoiding dietary sugar, it’s likely you will never need long-term medication.

Type 2 diabetes was formerly known as non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes due to its occurrence mainly in people over 40. However, type 2 diabetes is now becoming more common in young adults, teens and children and accounts for roughly 90% of all diabetes cases worldwide.

How serious is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a serious medical condition that often requires the use of anti-diabetic medication, or insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control. However, the development of type 2 diabetes and its side effects (complications) can be prevented if detected and treated at an early stage.

In recent years, it has become apparent that some people with type 2 diabetes are able to reverse their diabetes (i.e. put it into remission) through methods including low-carb diets, low-calorie diets and exercise.

If you have pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes can potentially be avoided through diet and exercise.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the hormone insulin is not used effectively by the cells in your body. Insulin is needed for cells to take in glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and convert it into energy.

Ineffective use of insulin results in the body becoming resistant to insulin – also known as insulin resistance, which in turn causes blood sugar levels to rise (hyperglycaemia).

In advanced stages, type 2 diabetes may cause damage to insulin producing cells in the pancreas, leading to insufficient insulin production for your body’s needs.

What are the main Type 2 diabetes risk factors?

A number of factors can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

These include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a waist size of 31.5 inches or more (women) or more than 37 inches (men)
  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Having a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes
  • Having high blood pressure or raised cholesterol levels
  • Being of South Asian and African-Caribbean descent
  • Smoking

The likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes is also influenced by genetics and environmental factors. For example, research shows that:

  • If either parent has type 2 diabetes, the risk of inheritance of type 2 diabetes is 15% [1]
  • If both parents have type 2 diabetes, the risk of inheritance is 75%.

Is there an age where I’m more at risk of type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult-onset diabetes as it was primarily seen in middle-aged adults over the age of 40.

However, in recent years, cases of type 2 diabetes have become more common in young adults, teens and children. This increase has been connected to climbing levels of obesity.

The main symptoms and diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes

Many people have type 2 diabetes without realising. This is because symptoms do not necessarily make you feel unwell.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • urinating more than usual, particularly at night
  • feeling thirsty all the time
  • feeling very tired
  • losing weight without trying to
  • cuts or wounds taking longer to heal
  • tingling, numbness or pain in the hands or feet
  • patches of dark skin
  • blurred vision

You’re more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you:

  • are over 40 (or 25 for south Asian people)
  • have a close relative with diabetes (such as a parent, brother or sister)
  • are overweight or obese
  • are of south Asian, Chinese, African Caribbean or black African origin (even if you were born in the UK)

Some of these symptoms are the same for type 1 diabetes, but in type 2 diabetes they tend to develop more slowly over a period of months or years, making it harder for people to recognise them as signs of an underlying illness.

In fact, many people have type 2 diabetes for a long period of time before being diagnosed with the disease.

Recognising the early signs of type 2 diabetes can allow a person to get a diagnosis and treatment sooner. Getting appropriate treatment, making lifestyle changes, and controlling blood sugar levels can greatly improve a person’s health and quality of life and reduce the risk of complications.

Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

Without treatment, persistently high blood sugar levels can lead to severe and sometimes life-threatening complications, including:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • nerve damage, or neuropathy
  • foot problems
  • kidney disease, which can result in a person needing dialysis
  • eye disease or loss of vision
  • sexual problems in both men and women

Untreated diabetes can also lead to hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic nonketotic syndrome (HHNS), which causes a severe and persistent increase in blood sugar levels. An illness or infection will usually trigger HHNS, which can require hospitalization. This sudden complication tends to affect older people.

Keeping blood sugar levels under control is crucial for preventing some of these complications. The longer that blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled, the higher the risk of other health problems.

Type 2 diabetes can often be detected through diabetes screening or may be picked up as part of other health checks.