Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the beta cells in the pancreas still make insulin, but it may not make enough, or the insulin that is being made does not do its job properly.  As a result, the gates of the cells cannot open to let the glucose in. This is called insulin resistance. If glucose cannot enter the cells, it builds up in the blood stream and causes blood glucose levels to rise. This is called diabetes.

When a person is in the early stages of having type 2 diabetes the pancreas works harder to try and make more insulin than usual. This happens because the pancreas is trying to help the glucose enter the cells and help the body get the energy it needs.
If the pancreas continues to work hard, it starts to 'get tired' the beta cells start to ‘die’ and make less insulin. This makes it harder to keep blood glucose levels in target. This is why type 2 diabetes is sometimes called a progressive condition meaning it may get worse over time.

How is type 2 diabetes managed?

The goal of type 2 diabetes management is to keep blood glucose levels within a target range (usually between 4-8mmol/L and up to 10mmol/L in some cases). When you are first diagnosed, your doctor will suggest you try making changes to your lifestyle. This means doing regular physical activity, making healthier food choices and losing weight. Your doctor might suggest you try this for 3 months to see if your blood glucose levels improve. If they remain above the target range after 3 months, your doctor will start you on medicine to help. Over time you may need more medicine or insulin injections to help keep your blood glucose levels in target.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

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
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling hungry
  • Needing to go to the toilet more often to pass urine
  • Infections, such as urinary tract or thrush
  • Skin rashes / itching
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts that heal slowly
Is type 2 common?

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and affects 85 to 90 per cent of all people with diabetes. It usually develops in adults over the age of 45, but is now being seen in younger people too.

Who is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

While there is no single cause for type 2 diabetes, there are well-known risk factors. Those most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes include:
  • People with pre diabetes
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged 35 and over
  • People aged 35 and over who are Pacific Islanders, Maori, Asian (including the Indian subcontinent, or of Chinese origin) Middle Eastern, North African or Southern European
  • People aged 45 and over who are obese or overweight, have high blood pressure or have a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes
  • All people with cardiovascular disease such as heart attack, angina, stroke, narrowed blood vessels
  • Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) who are overweight
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes (GDM)
  • People aged 55 or over
  • People with a first degree relative with type 2 diabetes
  • People taking certain antipsychotic medicine or corticosteroid medicine
Lifestyle risk factors include:
  • Being overweight or obese, especially around the waist
  • Low levels of physical activity, including more than two hours of television watching per day
  • Unhealthy eating habits, such as regularly choosing high fat, high sugar, high salt or low fibre foods
  • Cigarette smoking
Note: 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.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 can be prevented.

Up to 60% of type 2 diabetes can be prevented. People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent this condition by following a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Doing regular physical activity
  • Making healthy food choices
  • Managing blood pressure
  • Managing cholesterol levels
  • Not smoking
Having type 2 diabetes is not all doom and gloom. People often say that being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is a ‘wake up call’ for them, a chance to improve their lifestyle.
Making changes to your lifestyle by making healthier food choices, improving weight and increasing activity can;
  • Help keep your blood glucose level in target
  • Reduce your risk of developing diabetes complications such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease etc
  • Reduce or delay the need for medicine or insulin  
  • Make you feel and look better
Can type 2 diabetes be cured?

At this stage there is no cure for type 2 diabetes. Changing and keeping a healthy lifestyle can help keep blood glucose levels within the normal range, where you may no longer need medicine.  Achieving this is great and has many health benefits. However, this is known as remission, not a cure…the reason for this is, if you no longer keep a healthy lifestyle and start to put on weight again, your blood glucose levels will once again rise. This is why keeping a healthy lifestyle is so important.