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Learning About Type 2 Diabetes

What is type 2 diabetes?

Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use sugar from your food as energy. Type 2 diabetes happens when your body can't use insulin the right way. Over time, the pancreas can't make enough insulin. If you don't have enough insulin, too much sugar stays in your blood.

If you are overweight, get little or no exercise, or have type 2 diabetes in your family, you are more likely to have problems with the way insulin works in your body. Indigenous peoples, Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and South Asians have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle, which includes staying at a healthy weight, making smart food choices, and getting regular exercise.

What can you expect with type 2 diabetes?

You'll keep hearing about how important it is to keep your blood sugar within a target range. That's because over time, high blood sugar can lead to serious problems. It can:

  • Harm your eyes, nerves, and kidneys.
  • Damage your blood vessels, leading to heart disease and stroke.
  • Reduce blood flow and cause nerve damage to parts of your body, especially your feet. This can cause slow healing and pain when you walk.
  • Make your immune system weak and less able to fight infections.

When people hear the word "diabetes," they often think of problems like these. But daily care and treatment can help prevent or delay these problems. The goal is to keep your blood sugar in a target range. That's the best way to reduce your chance of having more problems from diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

Some people who have type 2 diabetes may not have any symptoms early on. Many people with the disease don't even know they have it at first. But with time, diabetes starts to cause symptoms. You experience most symptoms of type 2 diabetes when your blood sugar is either too high or too low.

The most common symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Weight loss.
  • Blurry vision.

The symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Sweating.
  • Shakiness.
  • Weakness.
  • Hunger.
  • Confusion.

How can you prevent type 2 diabetes?

The best way to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes is to adopt healthy habits, which include:

  • Staying at a healthy weight.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Eating healthy foods.

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

If you have type 2 diabetes, here are the most important things you can do.

  • Take your diabetes medicines.
  • Check your blood sugar as often as your doctor recommends. Also, get a hemoglobin A1c test at least every 6 months.
  • Try to eat a variety of foods and to spread carbohydrate throughout the day. Carbohydrate raises blood sugar higher and more quickly than any other nutrient does. Carbohydrate is found in sugar, breads and cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn, and milk and yogurt.
  • Get at least 2½ hours of exercise a week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports. If your doctor says it's okay, do muscle-strengthening exercises 2 times a week and aim for 3 times a week.
  • See your doctor for checkups and tests on a regular schedule.
  • If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, take the medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make health problems worse. This includes problems you might have with type 1 diabetes. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.