There are currently more than 4.4 million people living with diabetes in the UK, and around 90% of these have type 2. Diabetes UK also predicts that around 1.2 million people are living with type 2 diabetes who are yet to be diagnosed.

Uncontrolled diabetes can come with some serious complications – such as eye problems, nerve damage, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. So it’s important that it doesn’t go unchecked and untreated.

While this can sound scary, try to remember that diabetes is usually very manageable. It’s possible to live a long and healthy life if the condition is handled properly. There are also a number of things that can be done to prevent and even reverse its development.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at what type 2 diabetes is, the warning signs, and how you can reduce your risk.

What is type 2 diabetes?

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that most commonly occurs in those over 40. People with type 2 diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin or their bodies aren’t able to use insulin effectively.

Insulin is a hormone that’s made in the pancreas. It acts like a key to allow the carbohydrates that we get from food and drink (which are broken down into glucose) to move into our cells, where they can be used as energy or stored as fat.

When insulin isn’t being used by the body properly, blood sugar levels can rise until they become too high (hyperglycemia). If blood sugar levels remain high for long periods, blood vessels become damaged, which can lead to health complications.

The areas of the body most affected by these complications are often the heart, eyes, feet, and kidneys.

Type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 diabetes because type 1 is usually caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks itself by mistake – destroying the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes often runs in families and is usually diagnosed before the age of 40.

What are the warning signs of type 2 diabetes?

What are the warning signs of type 2 diabetes?

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes might not always make you feel unwell, which is why many people can live with it for many years without realising.

However, if you have type 2 diabetes, you might find that you…

  • Are urinating more frequently, especially at night
  • Struggle to satisfy your thirst, or feel thirsty all the time
  • Have a dry mouth
  • Feel very tired
  • Experience unexplained weight loss
  • Experience blurred vision
  • Take longer to heal after a cut
  • Get regular bouts of thrush and/or itching in your penis or vagina
  • Experience nerve pain or numbness in your hands and/or feet
  • Have dark patches on your armpits, neck, and groin areas (this is known as acanthosis nigricans and is caused by excess insulin in the blood)
  • Feel irritable, anxious, or worried

It’s important to visit your GP if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, as the earlier diabetes is diagnosed and controlled, the lower your risk of developing long-term health complications can be.

Health complications of type 2 diabetes can include…

  • Heart attack and stroke due to damaged blood vessels
  • Foot problems due to poor circulation and nerve damage
  • Kidney damage and/or disease
  • Gum disease (more sugar in your blood means more sugar in your saliva)
  • The development of certain cancers
  • Sexual problems due to restricted blood flow to sexual organs
  • Vision loss due to damage to blood vessels in the eyes

To learn more about the health complications of type 2 diabetes, it’s worth reading this page from Diabetes UK.

How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

Type 2 diabetes can be easily diagnosed with a blood or urine test, which can be administered at your GP surgery or local health centre. Alternatively, you can pay a fee to do a test at home using an online blood testing service, such as Thriva.

Once you post off your sample, you should receive your results and a doctor’s report within 48 hours. If your blood sugar levels are raised, you’ll be advised to discuss the results with your GP.

If you have diabetes, your GP will talk to you about the best ways to control it, which usually involves medication, insulin therapy, and/or lifestyle changes.

You’ll also be required to monitor your blood sugar levels at home and attend regular checkups with a doctor or nurse to make sure that everything’s under control.

To find out more about what happens after a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, head over to the NHS website. Or, if you’ve recently been diagnosed, you may find this page from Diabetes UK helpful.

What is prediabetes?

If your blood test tells you that your blood sugar levels are high but not high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, you might be told you have ‘prediabetes’ or ‘borderline diabetes’.

Prediabetes is an important stage in the development of diabetes, and by making some lifestyle changes, it’s possible to lower blood sugar levels and avoid it progressing to type 2 diabetes.

To learn more about high blood sugar levels, have a read of this advice from the NHS.

However, it’s important to note that blood sugar levels can be interpreted differently based on a person’s individual circumstances. Your doctor will confirm what your blood sugar levels should be.

Could I be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

Could I be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

As well as looking out for warning signs of type 2 diabetes, it’s also important to know your risk, so you can be proactive in taking control of your lifestyle.

According to Diabetes UK, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases if you…

  • Are overweight or obese (particularly if you carry a lot of extra weight around your midsection). Obesity is thought to account for 80-85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Are white and over the age of 40, or Black African, African-Caribbean, or South Asian and over the age of 25.
  • Are a man between the ages of 35-54 (twice as likely as women).
  • Have a parent, sister, brother, or child with diabetes (two to six times more likely).
  • Have Black African, African-Caribbean, or South Asian heritage (two to four times more likely).
  • Have a history of high blood pressure.

If you want to find out your individual risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you can do so in just a few minutes using this tool on the Diabetes UK website. You’ll need to know your height, weight, and waist size before you get started.

How can I reduce my risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

It’s estimated that there are over 13.6 million people with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the UK today.

However, if you think that you’re at risk, there are some things you can do to reduce this. In fact, Diabetes UK has highlighted that around half of all type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented or delayed.

The main ways to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes are…

1. Make positive changes to your diet

Make positive changes to your diet

While it might seem obvious, eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy weight and improve your overall health.

Small but beneficial steps you can take include…

Reducing your intake of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates

High intake of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates can contribute to weight gain. Simple sugars are also rapidly turned into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to rise quickly.

One of the best ways to reduce your intake of simple sugars and refined carbs is to limit the amount of processed foods in your diet (as these are often high in fat, sugar, and empty calories) and eat more natural and whole foods instead.

If you have a sweet tooth and want some tips on how to cut down your sugar intake, it’s worth reading this advice from the NHS, or our article 9 simple ways to cut back on added sugar.

Eating smaller, more frequent meals

Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help to regulate blood sugar levels.

A study of prediabetic men found that those who ate smaller portion sizes and adopted other healthy nutritional changes were 46% less likely to develop diabetes than men who made no changes to their eating habits.

For suggested portion sizes, check out this advice from The Association of UK Dietitians. Our article, 9 tips to prevent overeating and encourage portion control, also has some helpful pointers.

Drinking more water

Staying hydrated is important for helping your body to get rid of excess glucose through urine. The NHS recommends drinking six to eight cups of fluid a day, with water being a top choice.

If you’re struggling to get your water intake up, you could consider investing in a water bottle with time markings as a reminder to drink throughout the day.

Our articles, 11 tips for staying hydrated and 9 healthy and hydrating alternatives to water, also have more ideas.

Following a low-carb diet

Following a low-carb diet can be a good way to keep blood sugar levels low and stable because carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels more than any other food group.

Check out our article 8 tasty and filling low-carb meals for some inspiration.

Eating more fibre

Increasing your fibre intake can help to maintain a healthy weight, and can also reduce blood cholesterol levels and improve gut health.

The government advises that adults should eat 30g of fibre a day – yet most people eat far less.

For tips on increasing your fibre intake, take a look at our article; 10 easy ways to add more fibre to your diet.

Getting enough vitamin D

Studies have shown that vitamin D can help to lower blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes.

To make sure you’re getting enough, check out our article; What is vitamin D and why do we need it to stay healthy?

Cutting down on alcohol

Heavy drinking can interfere with blood sugar control and lead to weight gain, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes UK advises that the safest way to enjoy a drink and keep your risk of developing type 2 diabetes to a minimum is to stick to the NHS alcohol guidelines.

You’ll find plenty more healthy diet tips on the diet and nutrition section of our website.

2. Be more active

Be more active

Exercise can help to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in multiple ways.

Not only can it help to maintain a healthy weight, but it can also increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin so that it can be used more effectively (which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable).

Plus, studies have shown that as well as helping to prevent diabetes, staying active can also help to reverse it.

If you’d like to start taking small steps toward being more active, it’s worth reading our article; 17 creative ways to increase your daily step count. And, for more ideas and inspiration, head over to our fitness and exercise section.

Or, why not tune into one of the upcoming fitness classes on Rest Less Events?

3. Get support to lose weight if you need it

Get support to lose weight if you need it

The NHS recommends that you consider losing weight if your BMI is 25 or above, or if your waist size is over 94cm (37ins) for men or 80cm (31.5 ins) for women (regardless of your BMI).

However, while we all know that eating a healthy diet and moving more is good for us, losing weight can be easier said than done. But there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for extra support if you’re struggling to lose weight on your own.

One way you can reach out is by joining a weight loss support group. You can find your nearest group using this handy tool on the NHS website. Your GP can also be a source of support and will be able to advise you on the best way to lose weight based on your individual health needs.

You could also ask friends and family for help – perhaps by asking them to exercise with you and/or support you in making healthy meal choices. Or, if you’re looking for motivation, why not join one of our regular exercise classes over on Rest Less Events?

4. Quit smoking

Quit smoking

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke. For example, one study showed that women who smoked more than 40 cigarettes a day were 74% more likely to develop diabetes, while men had a 45% increased risk.

The reason for this is that nicotine in cigarettes can make the body less sensitive to insulin, affecting how well it can use it. This causes both glucose and insulin levels to rise, which can develop into type 2 diabetes over time.

If you want to give up smoking but are concerned about how you might do this, it’s worth chatting with your GP, who’ll be able to advise you based on your individual circumstances.

It’s also worth reading this advice from the NHS. There’s also some additional advice in our article; 8 tips on how to break negative habits and develop positive ones.

Final thoughts…

Considering our risk of developing certain health conditions can be daunting. But it can also be an important first step in making some positive lifestyle changes and taking control of our health.

If you’re aware that you need to make some changes to your lifestyle and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can help to start small. Often, small changes come together to make a big difference and will be more sustainable in the long run.

It’s also key to be kind to yourself when working on improving your health. Try to stay focused on what you can do to improve your health now and in the future.

And, finally, remember to give yourself credit for any positive changes you make, however small they might seem.

For more information, support, and advice, you can visit the Diabetes UK website. You might also like to read our article; 12 science-backed ways to lower (or regulate) blood sugar levels on the diet and nutrition section of our website.

Are you planning to make some lifestyle changes to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.