Health Check

The signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes often goes undiagnosed because the symptoms aren’t always easily recognisable. Here’s what you need to know.

Written by Editor Medibank
Woman pours water into a glass: being more thirsty than usual is one of the common symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Australian diabetes rates have nearly doubled since 2001. One in 20 Australians – some 1.3 million of us – have diabetes, with type 2 diabetes accounting for about 85 per cent of these cases.

So, what are the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes and what are the best ways to treat or manage this condition? Here’s the essential information.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition where the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood are too high. Blood glucose levels are normally regulated by a hormone called insulin, which is made by the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond effectively to insulin, or stops producing enough.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease. This means that the body’s immune system attacks itself. It’s a disease you can’t prevent.

People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin from their pancreas, the hormone used by the body to turn glucose into energy. Instead, the body burns its own fat to get the energy it needs – which can cause a life-threatening build-up of chemicals in the blood.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes some insulin – but not enough. It is more common in people with a family history of the disease; as well as in people who are overweight or obese, do not exercise enough, and have an unhealthy diet.

When people first get type 2 diabetes, it’s often possible to manage it with healthy eating and regular exercise.

Can you reverse type 2 diabetes?

The exact cause of type 2 diabetes is still unknown and there is no cure. However, the good news is the condition can often be prevented or delayed by making early lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise and prescribed medications, including tablets and insulin injections.

In some people with this condition, it’s possible to achieve type 2 diabetes remission. This means they have blood glucose levels below that of type 2 diabetes for at least 3 months, which is usually achieved through intensive dietary changes or bariatric surgery.

However, this should only be attempted under the guidance of a healthcare professional, and remission doesn’t mean the type 2 diabetes is cured or reversed.

Senior couple

Could Medibank help you better manage your type 2 diabetes?

Medibank Type 2 Diabetes Program is a pilot program to help eligible Medibank members lose weight to better manage their condition.  

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Researchers don’t fully understand why people with diabetes aren’t able to use insulin effectively. But there are strong genetic factors and lifestyle factors that increase your likelihood of developing the disease.

The increase in diabetes levels is linked to rising obesity rates (two-thirds of Australian adults and one in four Australian children now classified as overweight or obese), poor diet and lack of physical activity.

Type 2 diabetes is also more common in people with a family history of the disease.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

The signs and symptoms can be difficult to read, says Dr Linda Swan, Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer. “The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can often be attributed to other health or environmental factors,” she says. “As a result, diabetes can go undetected and, therefore, have damaging health consequences”.

But common symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include:

  • being more thirsty than usual
  • passing more urine than usual
  • feeling tired and lethargic
  • constantly feeling hungry
  • cuts that heal slowly
  • itching and skin infections
  • blurred vision
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weight gain
  • mood swings
  • headaches
  • feeling dizzy
  • leg cramps.

It’s worth noting many people with type 2 diabetes don’t have symptoms at all or have signs that go unnoticed over a lengthy period of time.

How to prevent type 2 diabetes

Although there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, the condition can often be prevented or delayed by making lifestyle changes.

Adopting healthy habits isn’t always easy at first, but it’s worth the effort. Eating a healthy balanced diet, limiting alcohol and processed foods, maintaining a healthy weight, doing regular physical activity, or quitting smoking can all help. Managing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also important.

As you get older, it’s also a good idea to see your GP for regular check-ups, so you can monitor your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol, and receive support, advice and tips to boost your health.

“It's important that children are encouraged to eat healthy foods, get plenty of physical activity and maintain a healthy weight,” says Linda Swan. “These simple steps can help avoid a whole host of health problems in the future."

How do you treat type 2 diabetes?

Maintaining a healthy weight and diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking and are key ways to managing the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Exercise helps to control your blood glucose levels while keeping your heart healthy and improving your overall health and wellbeing.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet – including plenty of vegetables, fruit, some grains and dairy, and lean meat and fish – and staying hydrated will also help you manage your blood glucose levels as well as your weight.

Avoid or limit processed food and drinks, which tend to have a lot of added sugar and salt and keep your alcohol intake to two or less standard drinks per day.

However, when it comes to diet, it’s not one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for your individual needs.

Written by Editor Medibank

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