- Type 2 diabetes is a common condition that causes the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood to become too high.
- It can cause symptoms like excessive thirst, needing to pee a lot and tiredness. It can also increase your risk of getting serious problems with your eyes, heart and nerves.
- It's a lifelong condition that can affect your everyday life.You may need to change your diet, take medicines and have regular check-ups.
- It's caused by problems with a chemical in the body (hormone) called insulin. It's often linked to being overweight or inactive, or having a family history of type 2 diabetes.
Many people have type 2 diabetes without realising. This is because symptoms don't necessarily make you feel unwell.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:
- peeing more than usual, particularly at night
- feeling thirsty all the time
- feeling very tired
- losing weight without trying to
- itching around your penis or vagina, or repeatedly getting thrush
- cuts or wounds taking longer to heal
- blurred vision
You're more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you:
- are over 40 – or 25 for south Asian people
- have a close relative with diabetes – such as a parent, brother or sister
- are overweight or obese
- are of south Asian, Chinese, African Caribbean or black African origin
Type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed following blood or urine tests for something else.
However, you should see your GP straight away if you have any symptoms of diabetes.
To find out if you have type 2 diabetes, you usually have to go through the following steps:
- See your GP about your symptoms.
- Your GP will check your urine and arrange a blood test to check your blood sugar levels. It usually takes about 1 to 2 days for the results to come back.
- If you have diabetes, your GP will ask you to come in again so they can explain the test results and what will happen next.
Most people need medicine to control their type 2 diabetes.
Medicine helps keep your blood sugar level as normal as possible to prevent health problems. You'll have to take it for the rest of your life.
Diabetes usually gets worse over time, so your medicine or dose may need to change.
Adjusting your diet and being active is also necessary to keep your blood sugar level down.
Getting the right medicine for you
Diabetes medicines help lower the amount of sugar in your blood.
There are many types of medicine for type 2 diabetes. It can take time to find a medicine and dose that's right for you.
You'll usually be offered a medicine called metformin first. If your blood sugar levels aren't lower within 3 months, you may need another medicine.
Over time, you may need a combination of medicines. Your GP or diabetes nurse will recommend the medicines most suitable for you.
Insulin isn't often used for type 2 diabetes in the early years. It's only needed when other medicines no longer work.
Diabetes UK has more information about taking medicines for type 2 diabetes.
Taking your medicine
Your GP or diabetes nurse will explain how to take your medicine and how to store it.
If you need to inject insulin or medicine called gliptins, they'll show you how.
Your diabetes medicine may cause side effects. These can include:
- bloating and diarrhoea
- weight loss or weight gain
- feeling sick
- swollen ankles
Not everyone has side effects.
If you feel unwell after taking medicine or notice any side effects, speak to your GP or diabetes nurse. Don't stop taking medication without getting advice.
How to get free prescriptions for diabetes medication
You're entitled to free prescriptions for your diabetes medication.
To claim your free prescriptions, you'll need to apply for an exemption certificate. To do this:
- fill in a form at your GP surgery
- you should get the certificate in the post about a week later – it will last for 5 years
- take it to your pharmacy with your prescriptions
Save your receipts if you have to pay for diabetes medication before you receive your exemption certificate. You can claim the money back.
Travelling with diabetes medicines
If you're going on holiday:
- pack extra medicine – speak to your diabetes nurse about how much to take
- carry your medicine in your hand luggage just in case checked-in bags go missing or get damaged
- if you're flying with a medicine you inject, get a letter from your GP that says you need it to treat diabetes
You need to keep an eye on your health and have regular check-ups if you have type 2 diabetes because it can lead to:
- heart disease and stroke
- loss of feeling and pain (nerve damage) – causing problems with sex
- foot problems – like sores and infections
- vision loss and blindness
- miscarriage and stillbirth
- problems with your kidneys
Controlling your blood sugar level and having regular diabetes check-ups is the best way to lower your risk of complications.
Getting your heart checked
You should have your cholesterol (blood fats) and blood pressure checked at least once a year. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, so it's important that high blood pressure and high cholesterol are spotted and treated early.
If you're already being treated for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, keep taking your medicine.
Diabetes also worsens the effects of smoking on your heart. Get help to quit smoking.
Loss of feeling
You should let your GP or diabetes nurse know if you notice any changes in your body.
Diabetes can damage your nerves (neuropathy). This usually affects your feet, but it can affect other parts of your body, causing:
- pain or tingling
- problems with sex
- constipation or diarrhoea
Early treatment can prevent nerve damage getting worse.
Looking after your feet
You should check your feet every day. Diabetes can reduce the blood supply to your feet and cause a loss of feeling.
This means foot injuries don't heal well and you may not notice if your foot is sore or injured. These problems can lead to ulcers and infections.
Simple things are important, like:
- keeping feet clean and dry to avoid infection
- trying not to go barefoot outside to avoid nicks and cuts
- wearing shoes that fit well
Speak to your GP or diabetes nurse if you notice any changes in your feet, including:
- cuts, cracks or blisters
- pain or tingling
- numb feet
Your feet should also be checked every year by your GP, diabetes nurse or podiatrist.
Sores or infections that aren't treated early can lead to gangrene. More than 135 amputations resulting from diabetes are carried out every week in the UK.
Checking your eyes
Eye checks can detect damage before it affects your sight. Treating damaged blood vessels early can prevent sight problems.
Speak to your GP immediately if you notice changes to your sight, including:
- blurred vision, especially at night
- shapes floating in your vision (floaters)
- sensitivity to light
Type 2 diabetes check-ups help to make sure your condition doesn't lead to other health problems.Every 3 months Blood sugar checks (HbA1C test)
Checks your average blood sugar levels and how close they are to normal.
You have these checks every 3 months when newly diagnosed, then every 6 months once you're stable.
This can be done by your GP or diabetes nurse.Once a year Feet
Checks if you've lost any feeling in your feet, and for ulcers and infections.
This can be done by your GP, diabetes nurse or podiatrist.
Speak to your GP immediately if you have cuts, bruises or numbness in your feet.Eyes
Checks for damage to blood vessels in your eyes.
Speak to your GP immediately if you have blurred vision.Blood pressure, cholesterol and kidneys
Checks for high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease.
This can be done by your GP or diabetes nurse
A healthy diet and keeping active will help you manage your blood sugar level. It will also help you to control your weight and generally feel better.
You can eat many types of foods
There's nothing you can't eat if you have type 2 diabetes, but you'll have to limit certain foods.
- eat a wide range of foods – including fruit, vegetables and some starchy foods like pasta
- keep sugar, fat and salt to a minimum
- eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day – don't skip meals
If you need to change your diet, it might be easier to make small changes every week.
Help with changing your diet
If you find it hard to change your diet, a dietitian might be able to help.
Talk to your GP or diabetes nurse to see if the cost could be covered through the NHS.
Being active lowers your blood sugar level
Physical exercise helps lower your blood sugar level. You should aim for 2.5 hours of activity a week.
You can be active anywhere so long as what you're doing gets you out of breath. This could be:
- fast walking
- climbing stairs
- doing more strenuous housework or gardening
The charity Diabetes UK has tips on how to get active.
Your weight is important
Losing weight (if you're overweight) will make it easier for your body to lower your blood sugar level, and can improve your blood pressure and cholesterol.
To know whether you're overweight, work out your body mass index (BMI).
If you need to lose weight, try to do it slowly over time – aim for around 0.5 to 1kg a week.