Men’s Health A-Z

Type 2 Diabetes


Frequently asked questions about Type 2 Diabetes, including what is Type 2 Diabetes, what are the symptoms, how do you prevent it, and what causes it?

Type 2 Diabetes

What is Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which your body cannot make enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it does make. Insulin is a hormone that helps control the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood which is why it’s important to have enough of it and to be able to use it properly. About 90% of people living with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Several different risk factors such as obesity and unhealthy lifestyle choices can cause type 2 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes aren’t able to produce insulin. Therefore, they cannot regulate their blood sugar because their body is attacking the pancreas. About 10% of people living with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. A big difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that type 1 isn’t affected by your lifestyle or your weight. This means you can’t increase your risk of developing type 1 with lifestyle changes. 

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but haven’t reached high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Many people with prediabetes end up developing type 2 diabetes. Taking the right steps to manage blood sugar and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of someone with prediabetes developing type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is also known as borderline diabetes.

Causes of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is caused by several factors that include obesity, ethnic background, a family history of type 2 diabetes, and other environmental factors. A person is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they are not physically active and are also overweight or obese. 

No single food or food group can cause type 2 diabetes. Consuming too much food or food in an unbalanced way can increase the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese, which increases a person’s risk of developing diabetes. Being overweight or obese, having an unbalanced meal plan, and lack of exercise can all increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Having the following conditions can also affect your risk of developing diabetes:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Obstructive sleep disorder

Sugar alone does not directly cause diabetes. Consuming too many foods or drinks that are high in sugar may result in weight gain. If a person is overweight or obese, it can increase their risk of developing diabetes. However, developing diabetes does not come from consuming sugar alone. 

It’s important to know that sugar is in many foods like sauces, condiments, and frozen meals. The amount of sugar in these foods may not be obvious like it is with soft drinks, desserts, and other sweet treats.

Prevention

If you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, it is important to make healthy lifestyle changes. Being a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and eating healthy can help to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Get Active

If you’re at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, it is important to make regular exercise a part of your schedule. It’s also important to limit the amount of time you spend sitting, so remember to get up and move every 20 to 30 minutes.

Aim to get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week (like walking, bicycling or jogging). 

For those living with type 2 diabetes, physical activity can help lower blood sugar and prevent sugar from building up in the blood. When you exercise, more energy is used, allowing you to control your blood sugar more efficiently.

Eat Healthier

People at risk can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes with healthy eating. Being overweight raises the risk of type 2 diabetes. When you have diabetes, being overweight increases your risk of complications. A healthy diet can help with weight loss while also controlling your blood glucose levels and reducing your risk for further complications.

Include vegetables, plant-based proteins, whole grains, healthy oils, oily fish, nuts, lean meats and dairy in your diet. A couple of diets to follow for people at risk are the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet.

Some suggested dietary changes include cutting the following things from your diet:

  • Highly processed foods,
  • Refined grains (i.e., white bread)
  • Sugary foods
  • Sugary drinks

Sign and Symptoms 

The most common signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight change (gain or loss)
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling or numbness of the hands or feet

One difference that men might experience instead of women is trouble with getting or maintaining an erection. Erectile dysfunction affects about 35-45 percent of men with diabetes.

There are two types of serious conditions someone with diabetes may experience due to improper blood sugar (glucose) control or other factors. One is hypoglycemia, and the other is hyperglycemia.

  1. Hypoglycemia is a condition where a person has very low blood sugar. If left untreated, the person can experience changes in mental status, feel confused, and have a headache. A person may be semi-conscious or experience unconsciousness, which, in extreme cases, lead to brain damage. 

Common symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Weakness, faintness, tremors
  • Headache irritability, dullness
  • Hunger, nausea
  • Fast heartbeat

A person experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) needs to be treated immediately to help prevent the worsening of their condition.

  1. Hyperglycemia is a condition where a person has very high blood sugar. This can occur as a result of eating too much food or simple sugars, inadequate insulin doses, infection, illness, surgery, or even emotional stress. Common symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
  • Increased urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased hunger, followed by lack of appetite
  • Weakness, fatigue
  • Headache

A person experiencing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) needs to be treated immediately to help prevent the worsening of their condition.

To learn more about treating low or high blood sugar, speak to your healthcare provider.

Diagnosis

There are various tests to confirm a diabetes diagnosis:

  • A fasting blood sugar test. This test is done after not eating or drinking anything but water for 8 hours. It checks to see if your fasting blood sugar level is equal to or greater than 7.0 mmol/L.
  • A 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test. The result of this test will be equal to or greater than 11.1 mmol/L.
  • A hemoglobin A1c test. The result of this test will be 6.5% or higher and is most reliable in adults. However, it isn’t appropriate for everyone as many things can affect the lifespan of red blood cells, including blood loss or blood transfusion, sickle cell disease, and more.
  • C-peptide test or test for autoantibodies. This can help diagnose type 1 diabetes or a slow-developing form called latent autoimmune diabetes in adults.
  • Genetic testing. Your doctor may do genetic testing to look for maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY), which is an inherited disease caused by a mutation in a gene. 

Treatment

There is no cure for type 2 diabetes, but it can be controlled or go into remission.

Remission usually happens in the early stages of diabetes or after substantial weight loss. It is typically experienced by those who aren’t taking diabetes medicine, where their bodies are still making insulin, and their blood sugar levels return to normal. Remission happens with weight control, healthy eating and activity.

For those with type 2 diabetes, one or more medications (or insulin) may be necessary, nonetheless.

Untreated diabetes can lead to serious complications, including:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Celiac disease,
  • Kidney disease
  • Vision loss (diabetic retinopathy)
  • Nerve damage (peripheral diabetic neuropathy) and Amputation
  • Mental health issues 

Coping

People with diabetes can live active and independent lives with a lifelong commitment to diabetes management. 

The best ways to cope with type 2 diabetes is to:

  • Stay informed about your condition
  • Be physically active at least 150 minutes a week
  • Regulate your blood sugar levels with a healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Treating your condition with medication
  • Develop ways to manage stress
  • Manage blood pressure

Commonly Asked Questions

People with diabetes may have “sweet-smelling urine.” However, one sign or symptom is not enough to indicate a diagnosis of diabetes. You should seek medical advice to help determine if you have diabetes. 

Frequent urination is just one potential sign of diabetes. You should seek medical advice to help determine if you have diabetes because one sign or symptom is not enough to indicate a diagnosis of diabetes. 

Diabetic foot pain, also known as diabetic neuropathy, can range from slightly aggravating to disabling or even life-threatening pain. For some people, it can cause a constant burning feeling in the feet or a sharp pain that may be worse at night. 

Diabetic neuropathy can also cause extreme sensitivity to touch, which can make standing and walking very painful. It is important to maintain your blood sugar and foot health, especially if you have diabetes. It will help minimize the possibility of infection and reduce the chance that diabetic neuropathy will affect you.

Yes, low or high blood sugar can affect erectile function. Chronic hyperglycemia can also cause nerve damage and reduced blood circulation, which can affect erectile function.

Fatigue, pain, and loss of interest in sex can fluctuate with blood glucose levels as well.

Men with type 2 diabetes may have lived with prediabetes for many years and may have damaged the small blood vessels of the penis in that time. They may also have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as diabetes.

Speak with your doctor to determine the underlying causes of your erectile dysfunction. They can provide treatment appropriate for you and options to better manage your diabetes, like improving blood sugar levels (which can help prevent nerve and blood vessel damage that leads to erectile dysfunction).

Your doctor will also consider other chronic conditions that could be causing erectile dysfunction (as it’s common for men with diabetes to experience other chronic conditions) and look at any medications you are taking to see if they may be worsening erectile concerns.

Natural ways to promote and maintain normal testosterone levels include high-intensity exercise and strength training and lowering stress. There is also minimal data suggesting vitamin D supplementation can help improve testosterone levels.

People with diabetes are more likely to have conditions that raise the risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, too much LDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides.

Over time, high blood sugar also damages blood vessels and nerves that control the heart.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease in Canada. Up to 50% of people with diabetes will have signs of kidney damage in their lifetime.

Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, you may be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What’s my 10-year outlook for Type 2 Diabetes and other health concerns?

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