Learning to Live with Type 2 Diabetes

A picture of an African American couple riding bicycles.

Living with Type 2 Diabetes

In the United States, upwards of 27 million people have Type 2 diabetes. Another 86 million have prediabetes, a common precursor to Type 2 diabetes, in which the blood sugar is elevated, but not high enough to be considered diabetes yet.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, those with Type 2 diabetes produce sufficient insulin to regulate glucose utilization, but their cells are unable to use it properly (this is referred to as “insulin resistance”) and the sugar builds up in the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes has several contributing causes, including:

  • Family History
    If your parents or siblings have diabetes, you are at increased risk

  • Extra Weight
    Being overweight or obese (as defined by a BMI greater than 25) has been linked to insulin resistance.

  • Metabolic Syndrome
    This refers to a group of conditions that is often seen in people with insulin resistance.

Metabolic Syndrome includes:

    • Excess weight around the waist.

    • Fasting blood glucose greater than 100 mg/dL.

    • Blood pressure greater than 140/90.

    • HDL cholesterol less than 35 mg/dL.

    • A triglyceride level greater than 250 mg/dL.

  • Race
    Diabetes affects African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders at a greater rate than the general population.

  • Unhealthy Lifestyle
    Lack of regular physical activity, eating a diet heavy in saturated fat, sugar and processed foods, smoking and not getting adequate sleep all have been shown to increase one’s risk for diabetes.

  • Gestational Diabetes
    Women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy or gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds are at increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

In many cases, the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are so mild the person doesn’t even notice them. It’s estimated that as many as 8 million people are unaware they have diabetes.

Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Feeling very thirsty

  • Excessive urination

  • Blurry vision

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue

  • Tingling in the hands or feet

  • Wounds that don't heal

  • Persistent yeast infections

Treatment Options

Like Type 1 diabetes, the best course of treatment for Type 2 diabetes is lifestyle changes to help manage blood sugar levels. Losing weight, eating well and being physically active are the best steps you can take if you have diabetes.

  • Diet
    A healthy diet rich in fresh fruit, veggies and complex carbohydrates will go a long way toward regulating blood sugar and curbing diabetes symptoms.

    When it comes to diabetes, carbs are the biggest nutrient of which to be aware. Carbs help fuel the body and are found in everything from bread and pasta to dairy and starchy vegetables.

    Many with diabetes will need to carefully track their carb intake at every meal in order to control blood sugar levels. It’s also best to avoid simple carbohydrates (such as sugar) and focus on complex carbs – such as beans, nuts and whole grain – which take longer to digest and won’t cause your blood sugar to spike.

  • Exercise
    Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone – it helps burn fat, lowers blood pressure, cuts bad cholesterol, raises good cholesterol, reduces stress, among many other benefits – but it’s especially important for those with diabetes. Exercise requires extra energy, so your body utilizes that excess glucose in the bloodstream, which helps keep blood sugar levels from spiking.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

    1. Consult your physician. Before starting any new exercise regimen, be sure to consult with your doctor first to make sure you’re physically sound.

    2. Start slow. If you’re new to exercise, start out with a daily 15-minute walk. Gradually you can increase the length and intensity.

    3. Mix and match. Be sure to include a variety of different exercises into your routine – cardio, strength training and stretching. This will increase results and help reduce boredom.

    4. Get creative. If traditional exercises like running and weight lifting aren’t your thing, try swimming or yoga or tennis. Swimming is an excellent workout. Take a dance class. Go for a hike or a long walk with your family. Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. There are countless opportunities out there for physical activity.

    5. Check your levels. Be sure to check your blood sugar before, during and after your workout. It’s also a good idea to carry a small carbohydrate snack with you in case your blood sugar levels get too low.



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