Type 2 diabetes

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that causes your blood sugar (known as glucose) levels to become too high. This often makes you thirsty and causes you to pee more than usual. We explain the symptoms of type 2 diabetes and how to treat it.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Insulin is a hormone made in our pancreas, and we need it to regulate our blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is where this insulin cannot work properly, or your pancreas is not able to make enough insulin. This means your blood sugar levels keep rising.

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

There are a few different types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic autoimmune condition and is usually present early in life, whereas type 2 diabetes can develop later in life and is often caused by lifestyle choices.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause high levels of blood sugar.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

If someone has type 2 diabetes their body doesn’t respond to insulin. A person’s body may become unresponsive to insulin for any number of reasons – a poor diet, lack of exercise, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and excessive alcohol intake are all associated with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes typically appear slowly. Some people will have diabetes without realising but, some of the possible symptoms are:

  • Feeling very thirsty

  • Peeing a lot, especially at night

  • Feeling tired and weak 

  • Losing weight with no clear explanation

  • An itchy penis or vagina, or thrush 

  • Cuts and grazes taking longer than usual to heal 

  • Blurred vision

If you notice any of these symptoms, particularly if they are persistent or recurrent, it’s important to speak to a doctor. 

What are the early signs of type 2 diabetes?

Some people will have no symptoms and may be told they have diabetes after a blood test. Sometimes, in early diabetes, the symptoms listed above are present, but milder.

Treating type 2 diabetes

If you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there are many treatments available. You can have a conversation with a doctor to get the best possible treatment for you.

Above all it’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle and you might be offered a referral to programmes that can help you with this. It is recommended to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. 

Some people with type 2 diabetes need medication to control their blood sugar levels. These medications include:

  • Metformin – tablets taken with or after meals 

  • Other tablets – gliclazide, alogliptin, linagliptin, glimepiride or pioglitazone

  • Injections – exenatide or liraglutide

If these treatments are not successful in helping with diabetes, you may be given insulin to balance your blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes diet

When living with type 2 diabetes, there are no foods you must cut out completely, but it’s recommended that you eat a more balanced diet. 

You should try to include food from each food group to maintain a healthy diet. These groups include proteins, carbohydrates and lots of fruits and vegetables.

Try to avoid:

  • Foods high in sugar like chocolate, sweets and cake

  • Foods high in saturated fats like butter and ice cream

  • Foods high in salt like crisps

  • Exceeding the recommended number of alcohol units

You should also avoid skipping meals and make sure you eat as regularly as you can. This will help keep your blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day.

If you have further questions about a dietary plan to manage your diabetes, a doctor can help.

How long does it take to reverse type 2 diabetes?

Reversing type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean the condition will never come back – it means you are in remission. This process can take a different amount of time for different people. Scientists have shown that the best way to reverse type 2 diabetes is to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle.

Diagnosing type 2 diabetes

If you visit a doctor to discuss your symptoms, you will have a blood test to check your blood sugar levels. There are different types of blood tests that can be used such as HbA1c, a random blood glucose test, a fasting blood glucose test or a glucose tolerance check. A doctor will choose the test that's most appropriate for you. 

When to see a doctor about type 2 diabetes

If you notice any symptoms that are listed, particularly if they are persistent, then book an appointment with a doctor. They can carry out a blood test to find out whether you might have diabetes. 

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi