What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 85 to 90 per cent of all people with diabetes. It usually develops in adults over the age of 45, but it is increasingly developing at a younger age.

Type 2 diabetes is known as a ‘lifestyle disease’ as it is often triggered by being inactive or carrying excess weight around the abdomen. It tends to run in families and it is not uncommon to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure as well.  

Unlike type 1 diabetes where the body produces no insulin, people with type 2 diabetes are still able to produce their own insulin. There may not be enough insulin for the body’s needs and/or the cells in the body are resistant to the action of insulin (insulin resistance).

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition and treatment usually needs to change over time so that blood glucose levels can be kept within the target range. In the early stages the body may be producing more insulin than normal, but after having type 2 diabetes for a number of years, the pancreas becomes exhausted and makes less insulin.

The management of type 2 diabetes initially involves regular physical activity, healthy eating and losing excess weight,.  This will help the insulin to work more effectively. With time, tablets may be needed and eventually also insulin injections so that blood glucose levels can be kept within the target range.

Losing weight and being physically active can delay the need for tablets or insulin.

Even when medications or insulin are commenced, regular physical activity and healthy eating remain the cornerstone of diabetes management.

People with type 2 diabetes often have no symptoms, so they may have diabetes for a number of years without knowing it. Sometimes the first sign that something is wrong is when they develop a complication of diabetes such as a heart attack, vision problems or a stroke.

Typical symptoms of type 2 diabetes

  • Thirst
  • Tiredness
  • Frequent / excessive urination
  • Persistent infections, such as genital thrush
  • Skin rashes / itching

It is important that diabetes is diagnosed and treated early. Those at high risk for type 2 diabetes should have a blood test each year. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes and weight control.

More information

Find out more about prevention and diagnosis of diabetes or risk factors for type 2 diabetes or download the What is diabetes? information sheet (PDF).