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Type 2 Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a long-term health issue that causes high blood sugar. When left untreated or unmanaged, it can cause serious side effects throughout your body.

If you or a loved one lives with T2D or has a new diagnosis, UPMC can help.

Our team of experts provides complete, custom care for adults and teens with T2D.

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What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Diabetes means your blood sugar is higher than normal because your body doesn't use insulin the right way. It's a common disease that can lead to serious health problems.

T2D is the most common form of diabetes. More than 37 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and more than 95% have type 2.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Lifestyle factors and genetics can cause T2D.

This type of diabetes often starts as prediabetes. With prediabetes, you don't make enough insulin, or your cells don't use insulin well.

Insulin helps get glucose (sugar) out of your blood and into your cells. If there's not enough or it doesn't work well, too much sugar stays in your blood.

Type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that attacks your pancreas cells. Your body doesn't make insulin, so you must give yourself daily insulin shots. It's a far less common type of diabetes that forms in children or young adults.

With T2D, most people make some insulin, but not enough. T2D affects mostly middle-aged and older adults.

What are type 2 diabetes risk factors and complications?

T2D risk factors

You may have a higher risk of T2D if you:

  • Are African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander.
  • Have a family history of diabetes.
  • Are over 35, although children and teens can get type 2 diabetes.
  • Are overweight, especially if you carry belly fat.
  • Have a history of gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
  • Have prediabetes.
  • Have a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Use certain prescription medicines (like prednisone) long term.

Complications of T2D

If left undiagnosed or untreated, high blood sugar can cause other health problems such as:

  • Eye issues, like low vision and blindness.
  • Heart disease and stroke.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Nerve damage, especially in your feet, limbs, or heart.
  • Sexual dysfunction and bladder problems.

How can I reduce my risk of type 2 diabetes?

Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of getting T2D, even if you have a family history.

You can:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Increase how much you exercise.
  • Lose weight if you're overweight.
  • Manage your stress.
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Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the signs and symptoms of T2D?

T2D symptoms often advance slowly. Many people don't have symptoms in the early stages.

Over time, as blood sugar worsens, you might have some or all of these T2D symptoms and signs:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
  • Feeling more tired than normal.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Increased thirst and hunger.
  • Numbness or tingling in your feet or hands.
  • Sores that don't heal.
  • Weight loss you can't explain.

How do you diagnose T2D?

If you have any of these symptoms, visit your doctor and get tested for diabetes. They can do a quick fingerstick or standard blood test to check your glucose level.

Doctors may diagnose T2D diabetes if your:

  • A1C is 6.5% or higher. A1C measures your average blood sugar over three months.
  • Fasting blood sugar is 126 mg/dL or higher. Fasting means you haven't eaten in at least eight hours.
  • Random blood sugar (any time of day or after a meal) is 200 mg/dL or higher.

Your doctor might also run these tests to make sure you don't get other diabetes-related health problems:

  • An eye exam to check for eye damage and vision changes.
  • Blood tests to check your cholesterol.
  • Urine and blood tests to check your kidney function.
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How Do You Treat Type 2 Diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-term disease. The ideal treatment and management come from a team approach.

UPMC's combined team of diabetes experts includes:

  • Dietitians.
  • Endocrinologists and family and internal medicine doctors.
  • Exercise therapists.
  • Mental health therapists.
  • Nurses.
  • Certified diabetes care and education specialists.

We aim to give you a custom treatment, education, and support plan and the tools to stay healthy.

T2D treatment may include medication, lifestyle changes, or weight loss surgery.

Medicine for T2D

Not all people need medicine to manage their diabetes. Some can improve their blood sugar with diet and lifestyle changes.

Others need T2D medications, such as:

  • Insulin shots to supplement the insulin your body makes.
  • Other shots to help your insulin work better.
  • Pills to help your insulin work better and prevent your liver from making too much glucose.

Lifestyle changes to manage T2D

To manage your blood sugar, a lifelong healthy diet and lifestyle are vital.

UPMC's experts can work with you one-on-one and in our diabetes support groups to help you:

  • Eat a healthy diet with more high-fiber fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Increase exercise. We can help you find and learn safe ways to work out.
  • Learn to manage stress. Effective techniques include talk therapy, meditation, yoga, and exercise.
  • Lose weight with diet and exercise changes.

Surgery for T2D

Weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) may help if diet and lifestyle changes don't work for you.

For many people, weight loss surgery can greatly improve blood sugar or reverse diabetes.

This is a major, life-changing surgery, and only some people qualify.

Guidelines recommend surgery for people 80 to 100 pounds overweight with a body mass index (BMI) more than 40. You may also qualify if you have a BMI of 35 or higher and obesity-related health issues, like diabetes.

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