Diabetes (Type 2)

Type 2 diabetes is a common but serious health condition that causes the level of sugar in the blood to become too high. This is due to the pancreas not being able to make enough insulin or the insulin that is produced not working properly. Type 2 Diabetes causes symptoms such as excessive thirst, frequent urination and tiredness. Unlike Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 is linked to being overweight, inactive or genetics. In the early stages, Type 2 Diabetes can often be managed by diet and lifestyle changes, but medication can also be used to manage the condition.

    Read more

    Advice for Diabetes (Type 2)

    What is Type 2 Diabetes & what causes it?

    Diabetes is a condition that relates to the body’s ability to control the amount of glucose in the blood. Insulin is a hormone naturally produced by the pancreas. It is responsible for regulating a person’s blood sugar levels. Insulin works in the body to extract glucose from the blood and move it into the cells, where it can be converted into energy. If this process is inhibited, the glucose will remain in the blood and cannot be used as fuel. The body will naturally try to reduce the amount of glucose in the blood by expunging the excess in the urine. Typical symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

    • Fatigue
    • Extreme thirst
    • Passing urine more often
    • Weight loss

    Diabetes can be divided into three main types:

    • Type 1 diabetes – the pancreas does not produce any insulin.
    • Type 2 diabetes – the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells fail to react to the insulin.
    • Gestational diabetes – this form of diabetes can occur during pregnancy, with the symptoms usually resolving after birth.

    Type 2 diabetes is the result of the pancreas not producing enough insulin to control the glucose in the blood. Alternatively, the condition can occur when the body is unable to successfully use what insulin is being produced- this is known as insulin resistance.

    The onset of type 2 diabetes can be caused by several factors. The four main risk factors are:

    • Age – the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age. On average, as people get older, they tend to exercise less and gain weight.
    • Genetics – your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases if you have a blood relative with the condition.
    • Weight – Being overweight or obese significantly increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
    • Ethnicity – South Asian, Chinese, African -Caribbean and Black-Africans are genetically more prone to developing type 2 diabetes. The condition is six times more prevalent within south Asian communities compared with the general UK population.

    What are the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?

    Type 2 diabetes affects around 3 million people in The UK. The condition can cause serious health complications, including:

    • Heart disease/stroke
    • Nerve damage
    • Diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina of the eye)
    • Kidney disease
    • Foot problems, such as foot ulcers (resulting from nerve damage and poor circulation)
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Miscarriage and stillbirth.

    This is why it’s very important to spot the symptoms early. Even pre-diabetes can increase the chance of developing heart disease.

    Typical symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

    • Constant feelings of thirst
    • Increased hunger (particularly after eating)
    • Passing urine more frequently, especially at night
    • Fatigue or lethargy
    • Weight loss and loss of muscle mass
    • Genital itching
    • Dry mouth
    • Headaches
    • Frequent bouts of thrush
    • Slow-healing wounds
    • Blurred vision (caused by the eye’s lenses becoming dry)
    • Loss of consciousness (rare).

    In many cases, type 2 diabetes goes undiagnosed until further health complications arise as a result. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop very gradually, making it quite difficult to spot. It is recommended to seek medical advice if you experience any of the related symptoms.

    Other symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include:

    • Frequent yeast infections
    • Acanthosis nigricans – dark, velvety skin changes to the neck, armpit and groin
    • Erectile dysfunction in men
    • Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.

    How is Type 2 Diabetes diagnosed?

    If you present with any of the symptoms of diabetes, it is important to visit your GP as soon as possible. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and will likely perform a blood glucose test, before deeming whether any additional testing is required.

    A blood glucose test is usually the first course of action. It’s easy, convenient, and less expensive than other testing methods. It involves using a small plastic lancet to pierce the skin, typically on the side of the finger. This will provide a drop of blood, which a testing strip can then absorb and analyse. The testing strip is attached to a compact battery-powered meter that will calculate and display the blood glucose levels.

    If your blood glucose results are high within the normal range, or just marginally over, your doctor may recommend you monitor your blood glucose levels at home. This can be done using a blood glucose testing kit, which is available in most pharmacies.

    Your doctor will likely ask you to test your blood glucose levels at the same time each day for one or two weeks. It will be important to note down when and what you’ve eaten during each day. This will help your GP to better gauge your results, and to identify any rogue or anomalous readings. In a home testing kit, blood glucose levels are measured by how many millimoles are present in a litre of blood. This measurement will help define the concentration of glucose in the blood, and will be expressed as mmol/l. A normal blood glucose level would be:

    • Between 4-6 mmol/l before meals
    • Less than 10 mmol/l two hours after meals

    These levels can vary slightly from person to person. To provide the most accurate reading, it is recommended to abstain from eating or drinking, with the exception of water, for eight hours prior to testing. This is known as a fasting test. If the results of your initial fasting test are outside the normal range, or if after home testing, your results are still inconclusive, your doctor will need to perform further tests in order to gain a firm diagnosis. This could be in the form of a blood or urine test, or both. Urine doesn’t normally contain glucose. However, glucose can overflow through the kidneys and into your urine if diabetes is present. If your urine sample tests positive for glucose, a specialised blood test can be performed to determine whether you have diabetes. This blood test is known as glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c). In some cases, the urine test is bypassed in favour of the HbA1c test.

    How is Type 2 Diabetes treated?

    Diabetes treatment is designed to keep the body’s blood glucose level as normal as possible. This will help manage the symptoms of diabetes, whilst helping to prevent the associated health problems from developing later in life. Type 2 diabetes will usually get worse over time. Adjusting your lifestyle and diet may initially help control the condition, but eventually, there may be a need to take medication.

    The first line of treatment is usually in tablet form. This can be one type of tablet or a combination of two or more types of tablets. Type 2 diabetes treatment can also include injecting insulins or other medications. A more detailed breakdown of type 2 diabetes treatment is listed below:

    Metformin – this is usually the first line of treatment for type 2 diabetes. Metformin works to reduce the amount of glucose the liver releases into the bloodstream. Also, metformin works to heighten the body’s cells responsiveness to insulin. Metformin is also recommended for adults who present with a higher risk of developing diabetes, where their blood glucose levels are progressing towards the condition, despite having made the necessary lifestyle changes. If you are diabetic and classed as overweight, you will likely be prescribed metformin. Unlike other diabetic medicines, metformin usually doesn’t cause any additional weight gain. In a small number of cases, as with most all medicines, metformin can carry the risk of side effects. The most common being diarrhoea and nausea. Metformin isn’t tolerated by everyone. For example, if you have kidney damage then this medicine may not be suitable.

    Sulphonylureas – are medicines that increase the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas. These medicines are usually prescribed where there is an intolerance to metformin, or if the patient is not overweight. Alternatively, sulphonylureas and metformin are often prescribed together, where one medication alone isn’t enough to control a patient’s blood glucose levels. Sulphonylureas carry an increased risk of hypoglycaemia, which is the result of low blood sugars. This is due to the increased amount of insulin the body is now producing. The most common side- effects associated with sulphonylureas are; weight gain, nausea, and diarrhoea. Examples of sulphonylureas medicines include; glibenclamide, gliclazide, and glipizide.

    Pioglitazone (glitazones) – this is a type of thiazolidinedione medicine. This type of medication heightens the body’s cells sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which results in more glucose being taken from the blood. Pioglitazone is typically prescribed in combination with either metformin or sulphonylureas, or in some cases both. Pioglitazone isn’t suitable for everyone. This medicine should be avoided if the patient is suffering from heart failure, or if they have a high risk of bone fracture. The most common side-effects associated with pioglitazone include; weight gain and swelling in the ankles (oedema).

    Gliptins (DPP-4 inhibitors) – these medicines work by inhibiting the breakdown of a hormone called GLP-1. This hormone helps the body to produce insulin in response to high blood glucose levels, however, it is rapidly broken down. By preventing GLP-1’s breakdown, more insulin can be produced by the body at the appropriate times, without causing episodes of hypoglycaemia. Gliptins are generally prescribed for patients who are unable to take sulphonylureas or glitazones, or in combination with them. Unlike sulphonylureas and glitazones, gliptins aren’t associated with any weight gain. Examples of gliptins include; linagliptin, saxagliptin, sitagliptin, and vildagliptin.

    SGLT2 inhibitors – work to increase the amount of glucose that is excreted in the urine. These medicines are usually considered in cases where metformin and DPP-4 inhibitors are unsuitable. The main side-effect associated with SGLT2 inhibitors is a higher risk of developing a genital and urinary tract infection. Examples of SGLT2 inhibitors include; dapagliflozin, canagliflozin, and empagliflozin.

    GLP-1 agonists – these medicines work in a similar fashion to gliptins. Administered by injection, GLP-1 agonists work to increase insulin production during periods where the blood glucose levels are high, thus reducing said levels without causing hypoglycaemia.

    Acarbose – Acarbose works by slowing down the rate at which the digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. Acarbose isn’t often prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes, due to its inherent side-effects, which include bloating and diarrhoea. Its use is usually reserved for instances where other types of treatment are either unsuitable or ineffective.

    Nateglinide & repaglinide – these medicines help stimulate the release of insulin by the pancreas. They aren’t always deemed a suitable treatment because their effects are short-lasting and they carry a risk of side-effects, such as weight gain and hypoglycaemia. However, they may prove to be a suitable option for patients who eat their meals at irregular times. This is because they are effective when taken just before eating.

    Insulin – Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which helps the body use the glucose in the blood. If the body is naturally producing too little or no insulin, then it will become necessary to inject the hormone. Insulin must be injected subcutaneously, as the oral route would cause it to be broken down by the stomach. Insulin injections are administered via a syringe or an injection pen (insulin pen or auto-injector). In most cases, doses of insulin are administered between two and four times a day. If you need to inject insulin, your diabetes care team will help teach you how and when to do so. They will also teach either a close friend or relative how to inject insulin properly.

    Treating hypoglycaemia – Depending on what medication you are taking, type 2 diabetes can carry a risk of experiencing episodes of hypoglycaemia. Hypoglycaemia occurs when the blood sugar levels become too low, causing the sufferer to feel shaky, weak, or hungry. In most cases, the condition can be managed by eating or drinking something sugary, such as glucose tablets or sugary drinks.

    If the sufferer develops severe hypoglycaemia, they may become confused and drowsy, even to the point where they lose consciousness. Under these circumstances, an injection of glucagon into a muscle, or glucose into a vein will be required. Your diabetes team will advise you on how best to avoid a hypoglycaemia attack, and what to do during one.

    Other treatments – having type 2 diabetes will increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. To help manage the potential risk of developing these conditions, other medicines may be prescribed. These include:

    • Statins – which will help reduce high cholesterol. Examples include; simvastatin and atorvastatin.
    • Anti-hypertension medicines – also known as blood pressure tablets, these medicines will help control high blood pressure.
    • Aspirin (low dose) – low dose Aspirin (75mg) is usually taken once daily to help prevent strokes.
    • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors – these medicines will help reduce the risk of developing diabetic kidney disease. Examples of ACE inhibitors include; Enalapril, Lisinopril, and Ramipril.

    How can I prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

    It is estimated that up to 90% of cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

    Maintain a healthy weight – being overweight or obese will significantly increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight is an essential element for preventing the onset of the condition. Losing just 5kg, even over the course of several years, can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 50%. Your aim should be to achieve a healthy body mass index (BMI), which for the general population is a reading between 18.5 and 25. Your BMI is calculated using your height and weight.

    Reduce your intake of sugary foods – your risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be reduced by being more vigilant about the amount and type of carbohydrates that you ingest.

    Increase the amount of high-fibre foods you eat - This can include wholegrain bread, fruit, vegetables, cereals, beans and lentils.

    Choose foods that are low in fat – replace butter with a low-fat spread. Try to eat more fish and lean meats, such as chicken, instead of fatty, processed meats, such as burgers and sausages.

    Change the way you cook food - try to avoid frying and roasting foods. Instead, you can steam, grill, poach or bake.

    Substitute sugary snacks for healthier options, such as fruit, unsalted nuts, or low-fat yoghurts. Avoid snacks like crisps, pastries, cakes and biscuits.

    Being physically active is very important in helping to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. It is recommended to partake in at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity a week. This can include; brisk walking, cycling and jogging. It is also recommended to include muscle- strengthening activities as part of your workout regime. These should aim to work all the major muscle groups – arms, legs, shoulders, back, hips and abdomen.

    In cases where these physical activity targets are unrealistic, even minor increases in your activity levels will prove beneficial to your health. A minor increase in activity may also act as a springboard for future improvements.

    Your GP, dietitian, or diabetes care team can provide more tailored advice about what diet and exercise programme will work best for you.

    Alternatives

    There are no non-prescription alternatives to Type 2 diabetes treatments, however adapting a healthy lifestyle can help you keep your condition under control.

    These lifestyle changes are;

    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Reducing your intake of sugary foods
    • Increasing the amount of high fibre food you eat
    • Choose foods that are low in fat
    • Being physically active.

    Diabetes (Type 2) FAQs

    • Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition that occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin, or when the body is unable to use insulin in the right way. Type 2 diabetes often develops in people who are overweight and physically inactive.
    • Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Insulin is responsible for transferring glucose from the blood into the body's cells, where it can be stored or used for energy. If there isn't enough insulin, or if the insulin isn't being used properly, glucose will not reach the cells, and your blood sugar levels will begin to rise. Over time, high blood glucose levels can lead to problems with your eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys.
    • People who suffer from diabetes either have a total lack of insulin (type 1 diabetes), their body doesn't produce enough, or it cannot use insulin effectively (type2 diabetes).
      Type 1 diabetes accounts for approximately 10% of diabetic cases. In type 1 diabetes, the cells responsible for releasing insulin are mistakenly destroyed by the body's immune system. Over time, this process will completely eliminate insulin production within the body. Without any insulin, the body's cells are unable to absorb any glucose from the blood, which they require in order to produce energy.
      Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the condition, affecting around 90% of total diabetic cases. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age, though in most cases the condition doesn't become apparent until adulthood. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to use insulin in the correct way. This is sometimes referred to as insulin resistance. As the condition progresses, the pancreas may start to produce less insulin, which is referred to as insulin deficiency.
      There is another form of diabetes known as gestational diabetes. This form of the condition develops during pregnancy and usually resolves after the baby is born.
    • In some cases, type 2 diabetes may not present with any symptoms in its early stages. Many people with the condition are unaware that they even have it. However, over time, as the condition progresses, symptoms will start to become apparent.
      Common symptoms of high blood glucose include:
      • Excessive thirst
      • Lethargy
      • Frequent need to urinate
      • Unexplained weight loss
      • Blurred vision
      The severity of these symptoms will be directly linked to the amount of glucose in the blood. The higher the levels, the more likely you are to experience symptoms.
    • It is recommended to be tested for type 2 diabetes if:
      • You present with any of the associated symptoms
      • You are over 40 years of age and overweight.
      • You are younger than 40 years old, but your body mass index (BMI) is 25 or more.
      • You suffer from high blood pressure.
      • You have a family history of diabetes.
      • You have suffered gestation diabetes.
      • You have given birth to a baby weighing more than 10lbs (4.5 kg).
      • You have a history of heart disease.
      • You have a history of high blood sugars.
      • You have a history of polycystic ovary syndrome
    • If you present with any of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, it is advised to see your GP as soon as possible. After listening to your symptoms and reviewing your medical history, they will likely ask you relevant questions regarding your diet and current levels of physical activity. In addition, your doctor will likely perform a blood glucose test, which will determine whether any further testing is required.
      If your blood glucose levels are only marginally outside the normal ranges, your doctor may suggest monitoring your blood glucose levels at home for a week or two. This will help gauge whether the high reading was anomalous, or whether your blood glucose levels are consistently at that level. If the results of your blood glucose tests are significantly higher than the normal range, your doctor will need to perform further tests in order to gain an informed diagnosis.
      This will likely be a blood test known as glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c). The HbA1c test will determine the amount of glucose being carried by the red blood cells for the preceding 2-3 months. A high result will enable your doctor to successfully diagnose type 2 diabetes.
    • Making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle will initially help manage type 2 diabetes, though many these changes will require medicinal supplements. This could be just one tablet or a combination of 2 or more. For some, type 2 diabetes will require injecting insulins or other medications. Examples of diabetic medicines are:
      • Metformin
      • Sulphonylureas
      • Pioglitazone
      • Gliptins (DPP-4 inhibitors)
      • GLP-1 agonists
      • SGLT2 inhibitors
      • Acarbose
    • Around 90% of cases of type 2 diabetes could have been prevented by adopting a more healthy lifestyle and dietary habits. The best advice for preventing type 2 diabetes is to:
      • Maintain a healthy weight (BMI between 18.5-25).
      • Get plenty of exercise (at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity per week).
      • Reduce your intake of sugary foods.
      • Increase the amount of high fibre foods that you eat, such as wholegrain bread, fruit and vegetables.
      • Choose foods that are lower in fat. For example, replace butter with a low-fat spread.
      • Substitute sugary snacks for healthier ones. Instead of crisps and chocolate, try unsalted nuts and low- fat yogurts instead.
      • Alter your methods for cooking. Instead of frying foods, opt to grill, bake or steam instead.
    • Making certain lifestyle and dietary changes will certainly help manage type 2 diabetes, though whether the condition can be cured is a different matter. It would be more accurate to say diabetes can be reversed rather than cured. The term reversal is used when sufferers are able to come off medication after having adopted dietary and lifestyle changes. However, the condition must still be managed through these changes in order to stay off the medication.
    • If type 2 diabetes isn't managed or treated properly, it can lead to a variety of other health issues.
      Even mildly raised levels of glucose in the blood can still potentially have long-term damaging effects on your health. These include:
      • Heart disease
      • Stroke
      • Nerve damage
      • Diabetic retinopathy
      • Kidney disease
      • Foot problems, such as foot ulcers
      • Sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and loss of libido
    • A blood glucose test will measure how many millimoles of glucose are present in one litre of blood.
      This measurement will help identify the concentration of glucose in the blood, and will be expressed as mmol/l. The normal ranges for blood glucose level are:
      • Between 4-6mmol/l before meals
      • Less than 10mmol/l 2 hours after meals.
    • During your first antenatal appointment (8-12 weeks), your doctor or midwife will ask specific questions to determine whether you're at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. The risk factors include:
      • A body mass index of 30 or greater.
      • Having previously delivered a baby weighing more than 10lbs (4.5kg).
      • Having suffered from gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy.
      • Having a blood relative with the condition.
      • Your heritage is of Asian, Chinese, middle-eastern, or African-Caribbean descent.
      Should one or more of these risk factors be present, your doctor or midwife should offer you a screening test for gestational diabetes.

    Unsure about a treatment?

    Ask our medical team for impartial information and advice about any treatment we provide or medical condition that we treat before you buy.

    A small collection of medicines; A tube of orange ointment, a bottle of pills, and a tub of creamA doctor wearing glasses, with a stethoscope around his neck and an orange clipboard, welcoming a new customer with a wave

    Need something else?

    We stock 577 treatments for 72 conditions

    Or browse all treatments or conditions

    Medical professionals standing unified looking for solutions to fix your health problem