Type 2 Diabetes: 10 Key Questions

More than 20 million people in the United States have diabetes. If you or a loved one has been affected by type 2 diabetes, here are answers to 10 common questions on risk factors, symptoms, and treatment.
Your First 10 Questions about Type 2 Diabetes:

1. What is prediabetes? Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they go through a period during which their blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels rise, but not high enough to qualify as full-fledged diabetes. This is prediabetes, and it is the time in which diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the onset of diabetes.

2. What causes type 2 diabetes and who is at risk? No one knows exactly what causes this type of diabetes. While genetics appear to play a role, physical inactivity and obesity are two of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

3. Can type 2 diabetes be prevented? Studies have shown that regular exercise can significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. John Buse, M.D., PhD., director of the Diabetes Care Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, advises doing different exercises from session to session to both increase full-body benefit and give your muscles time to recover between workouts.

“For example, on one day you may walk or run, and the next workout you’ll lift weights and another day just do stretching exercises,” Buse says. The key is a broad and balanced program. He also advises novices to start with every-other-day workouts. “That helps your body recover between workouts.” If you are overweight or obese, losing weight will help lower your risk of becoming diabetic.

4. How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed and what are the symptoms? Doctors will test your blood glucose level to determine whether you have diabetes. The preferred method is called a fasting plasma glucose test, in which your blood sugar level is tested after you haven’t eaten for at least eight hours. Many people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms, but those who do may complain of frequent thirst, excessive urination, intense hunger, and fatigue.

5. What is metabolic syndrome? This refers to a group of risk factors that doctors consider to be the precursors to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. They include abdominal obesity, high triglycerides (a type of cholesterol in your blood), low levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. People who have prediabetes and metabolic syndrome are at increased risk for developing full-fledged diabetes and heart disease — for these folks, losing weight and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol is extremely important.

6. What medications are used to manage diabetes? What is insulin? Numerous medications are available in pill form that can lower blood sugar levels. Many people with diabetes also take insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood glucose and is given by injection. Insulin is normally produced by the pancreas, but in type 2 diabetes the body can no longer use insulin effectively.

7. Can type 2 diabetes be managed through nutrition and exercise? Healthy eating and a good workout regimen can make a huge difference in managing type 2 diabetes. In fact, most doctors will attempt to manage type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise for as long as possible before putting a patient on medication. Dr. Buse says to shoot for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on “most days of the week.” That means physical activity that “makes it clear you’re working but not huffing and puffing. You should be able to carry on a conversation while you’re exercising,” Buse says. “Many people start out too quickly and burn out, so they can’t make it for 30 minutes.”

8. Is there a cure for type 2 diabetes? No. The disease might go into remission, but there always will a chance it will resurface. Your best bet is to try to prevent diabetes through a healthy diet and a consistent exercise program.

9. Are there alternative treatments for type 2 diabetes? A number of dietary supplements may aid in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. They include omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, chromium, alpha-lipoic acid, garlic, and magnesium. Research is ongoing on the best way to incorporate these supplements into diabetes treatment.

10. What should a caretaker know about diabetes? Caretakers of people with diabetes must learn the patient’s dietary restrictions, how to perform blood sugar tests, and how to inject insulin properly. Caretakers will need to become aware of the possible complications of type 2 diabetes as well.