Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes mellitus, formerly known as non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes), is a globally common metabolic disorder that results from the body's ineffective use of insulin.
Accounting for roughly 90% of all diabetes cases worldwide, type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with excess body weight and a lack of physical activity, and is now becoming more common in young adults, teens and children.
Type 2 diabetes statistics
According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), more than 371 million people across the globe have diabetes and this figure is predicted to rise to over 550 million by 2030.
Of the total global diabetes rate, 90% are living with type 2 diabetes but it is estimated that up to half of these people are unaware of their condition (undiagnosed diabetes).
In the UK, more than 2.7 million people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes while a further 750,000 people are believed to have the symptoms but are yet to be diagnosed with the disease.
How serious is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a serious medical condition that often requires the use of anti-diabetic medication, or insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control.
However the development of type 2 diabetes and its side effects (complications) can be prevented if detected and treated at an early stage.
What causes type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the hormone insulin is not used effectively by the cells in your body. Insulin is needed for cells to take in glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and convert it into energy.
In advanced stages, type 2 diabetes may cause damage to insulin producing cells in the pancreas, leading to insufficient insulin production for your body's needs.
Type 2 diabetes risk factors
A number of factors can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a waist size of 31.5 inches or more (women) or more than 37 inches (men)
- Eating an unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Having a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes
- Having high blood pressure or raised cholesterol levels
- Being of South Asian and African-Caribbean descent
The likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes is also influenced by genetics and environmental factors. For example, research shows that:
- If either parent has type 2 diabetes, the risk of inheritance of type 2 diabetes is 15% 
- If both parents have type 2 diabetes, the risk of inheritance is 75% 
Is there an age where I'm more at risk of type 2?
Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult-onset diabetes as it was primarily seen in middle-aged adults over the age of 40, in contrast to type 1 diabetes which is typically diagnosed at a much earlier stage.
However, in recent years cases of type 2 diabetes have become more common in young adults, teens and children. This increase has been connected to climbing levels of obesity.
- See our guide on diabetes risk factors for more information.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes are:
Some of these symptoms are the same for type 1 diabetes, but in type 2 diabetes they tend to develop more slowly over a period of week or months, making it hard for people to recognise them as signs of an underlying illness. In fact, many people have type 2 diabetes for a long period of time before being diagnosed with the disease.
Type 2 diabetes is frequently diagnosed following the results of either a fasting plasma glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test. The condition can also be detected through a general health check with your GP.
Type 2 diabetes has become one of the biggest long term health conditions in the UK and the world. Over 2 million people in the UK have type 2 diabetes.
The symptoms of type 2 can come on very slowly and often the signs can be dismissed as simply getting old. The sooner diabetes can be diagnosed the better as damage can sometimes be done to the body by diabetes before it is diagnosed.
With type 2 diabetes being so common we can all do with knowing the risk factors and symptoms.
The common risk factors are body size: being overweight and particularly if you’re carrying extra weight round your middle.
Age: people’s risk of type 2 diabetes goes up with age. Having a close family member such as a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes.
Ethnicity: people with an Asian, Middle Eastern or African-Caribbean background have a higher risk. High blood pressure is also closely associated with type 2 diabetes
Remember symptoms can come on very gradually. Don’t be tempted to think that if you’ve had these symptoms for a long time that they must be normal.
Type 2 diabetes may either be diagnosed by a urine test or a blood test.
If these methods are not clear cut, you may be asked to take an oral glucose tolerance test.
There are a wide range of treatment options to control type 2 diabetes. Some people may be able to control diabetes through lifestyle changes alone. Some people may be put onto tablets. Others may go onto injections, such as insulin
When you’re diagnosed with diabetes you will most likely need to make some changes to your lifestyle. Cut down on smoking and drinking. Take more physical activity - preferably each day. Eat a healthy, balanced diet - which you may find needs to be lower in carbohydrate than you might be used to.
Type 2 diabetes treatment
First line treatment for type 2 diabetes typically includes a combination of diet modification and control, regular and appropriate exercise and home blood glucose testing. If blood sugar levels remain elevated despite these measures then tablet medication is usually prescribed.
Recently a number of new and effective treatments have become available, such as:
Some people with type 2 diabetes, usually those who have had type 2 diabetes for a number of years, may also be moved onto insulin injections.
- For more information on diabetes drug treatments, see our Medication section
Maintaining good control of blood glucose levels, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, is vital in reducing the risk of diabetic complications. If you are overweight, weight loss can often help to improve the extent of diabetes symptoms.
Type 2 diabetes and complications
Like type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes carries the risk of diabetes complications over time.
The most common complications of type 2 diabetes include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease (nephropathy)
- Eye disease (retinopathy)
- Nerve damage (neuropathy), which raises the risk of amputation
In fact, by the time they are diagnosed, 50% of people with type 2 diabetes show early signs of these health conditions.
The list of complications, which also includes depression and sexual dysfunction, is not pleasant but their risks can be reduced through good diabetes control and attending all diabetic screening appointments.
As with many chronic diseases, early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is beneficial for treatment. Before type 2 diabetes develops, most patients exhibit pre-diabetic symptoms, and if treatment commences at this stage, diabetes of this type can be preventable.
- Almost 1 in 3 people with type 2 diabetes develops overt kidney disease 
- Within 20 years of diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, 60% of people diagnosed have some degree of retinopathy 
Impact of type 2 diabetes
As stated above, type 2 diabetes can lead to a greater chance of health problems which could in some cases affect your ability to work and could therefore affect your personal income.
Another factor to bear in mind is that increased care may be needed, from your family or from a carer, particularly as you get older.
With the right support and good diabetes management, the potential negative effects of type 2 diabetes can be minimised.
The NHS and type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is already one of the most common long term health conditions and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the UK is growing year on year.
The cost of treating a growing number of people with type 2 diabetes, and the health complications associated with the condition, is estimated to cost the NHS around £12 billion a year on direct and indirect care.
Famous people with type 2 diabetes
Famous people with type 2 diabetes include: