Type 2 diabetes, also known as type 2 diabetes mellitus, develops when your blood sugar (blood glucose) levels are elevated for an extended period of time. In type 2 diabetes, your pancreas may not be able to make enough insulin — the hormone that regulates blood glucose — or your body’s cells cannot properly use insulin to take in glucose. This is called insulin resistance. As a result, blood sugar levels stay high, eventually leading to symptoms that affect the entire body.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes vary from person to person, and they can be influenced by how advanced the condition is. In prediabetes or early diabetes, symptoms may be barely noticeable. They can also be confused with other health conditions, the effects of stress, or changes associated with normal aging. As insulin resistance increases, high blood sugar levels progressively damage nerves, blood vessels, and organs. This can worsen your symptoms and severely impact your quality of life.
Early symptoms of type 2 diabetes may not be noticeable, so health experts recommend regular screenings for people 35 to 70 who are overweight or obese and/or who have risk factors such as a family history of diabetes or a history of gestational diabetes. The earlier type 2 diabetes is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis (predicted outlook) is.
People with type 2 diabetes may not experience every symptom or even most of them. Common symptoms include:
Depression and anxiety are common in people with type 2 diabetes, as with all chronic illnesses. Additional health problems are also common, including:
Rapid changes in blood sugar levels can also affect people with type 2 diabetes. Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, is more common in people with unmanaged diabetes. The longer a person has had type 2 diabetes, the more difficult it becomes for them to notice their symptoms.
Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when your body lacks the insulin to let blood sugar into your cells to be used as energy. As a result, the liver breaks down fat for energy, producing acids called ketones. These ketones can build up to dangerous levels and can cause serious hyperglycemia symptoms, including:
If you begin having any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can occur if you don’t eat enough to raise your blood sugar levels, if your diabetes medication dose is too high, or if you use too much insulin. Hypoglycemia can become dangerous if your blood sugar levels dip too low. With this, knowing the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia can help keep you safe. These include:
Although these are the most common hypoglycemia symptoms, some people may experience only one or two, or none of them. Checking your blood sugar levels often is the only way to ensure they are within a normal range.
If blood glucose levels are not maintained within a healthy range, damage progresses. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder, meaning that puts you at a higher risk of developing complications. Serious complications of diabetes can affect the eyes, circulatory system, kidneys, and digestive system.
Diabetes treatments and lifestyle changes can help keep blood glucose within the normal range, slow the progress of the disease, and manage symptoms.
Diabetic retinopathy affects the retina in the eyes. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the retina, leading to vision complications. Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, and difficulty seeing objects in the distance or reading up close. As the condition progresses, you may notice floating spots or streaks in your vision.
High blood sugar levels also damage the body’s nerves, leading to a condition known as diabetic neuropathy. This primarily affects the nerves in the feet and legs, but it can also affect nerves in the circulatory and gastrointestinal systems. Diabetic neuropathy can be broken down into multiple groups, including autonomic neuropathy and peripheral neuropathy.
Autonomic neuropathy affects bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. Symptoms include:
Peripheral neuropathy affects the body’s peripheral nerves found in the feet, legs, hands, and arms. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, muscle cramps, and weakness. You may also notice the development of open sores on the feet due to poor circulation. If left untreated, it may lead to gangrene (death of body tissue) and require amputation (removal) of the affected toe, foot, or leg.
Nerve damage from type 2 diabetes also increases the risk of developing infections. As blood vessels and nerves become damaged, blood flow to the feet, legs, and hands is reduced. You are also less likely to feel an injury with damaged nerves, which may lead to an infection. Increased blood sugar levels also make it easier for bacteria to grow.
Common infections that develop in people with diabetes include:
Checking your skin daily and using proper hygiene can help prevent infections. Keeping your feet clean and dry can also help prevent diabetic foot infections, which are common.
High blood sugar can also damage the blood vessels that feed into the kidneys, leading to the development of diabetic kidney disease. Oftentimes, people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, which may also impact the kidneys. Around 33 percent of adults living with diabetes have kidney disease. Most people don’t know that they have diabetic kidney disease, and the only way to check is to have blood and urine tests.
In a survey of almost 16,000 people with diabetes or a high risk for diabetes, 44 percent of those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes reported that they hadn’t noticed any of the most common symptoms within the previous year. The most frequently reported symptoms among all groups were increased urination and fatigue. However, around 70 percent of respondents did not report experiencing either of these two symptoms.
If you think you’re at risk of developing diabetes or have symptoms of the condition, speak with your health care provider about being screened.
On DiabetesTeam, the social network for people with diabetes and their loved ones, more than 123,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with diabetes. Here, finding ways to manage the symptoms of diabetes is a commonly discussed topic.
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