HEALTH TALK: What Type 2 diabetes does to your health

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD
Dr. Victor Emanuel MD


Type 2 diabetes strikes people of all ages, and early symptoms can be subtle. In fact, about one out of three people with Type 2 diabetes don’t know they have it. This chronic condition thwarts the body’s ability to use the carbohydrates in food for energy. The result is elevated blood sugar. Over time, this excess sugar raises the risk for heart disease, loss of vision, nerve and organ damage, and other serious conditions.


People with Type 2 diabetes frequently have no symptoms. When those symptoms do appear, one of the first may be an increase in thirst. This is often accompanied by additional problems, including dry mouth, increased appetite, frequent urination, sometimes as often as every hour – and unusual weight loss or gain.



As blood sugar level become more abnormal, additional symptoms may include headaches, blurred vision, and fatigue.



In most cases, Type 2 diabetes is not discovered until it takes a noticeable toll on health. On red flag is troubling infections, such as:

  • Cuts or sores that are slow to heal
  • Frequent yeast infections or urinary tract infections
  • Itchy skin, especially in the groin area



Sexual dysfunction is common among people with diabetes. Diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels and nerve endings in the genitals, leading to a loss of feeling and making orgasm difficult. Other complications can include vaginal dryness and impotence in men. It is estimated that between 35% and 70% of men with diabetes will have at least some degree of impotence in their lifetime. And about one in three women with diabetes will experience some form of sexual dysfunction.



Some health habits and medical conditions related to your lifestyle can increase the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Being overweight, especially at the waist
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • A diet high in red meat, processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and sweets
  • Abnormal cholesterol and blood fats, such as HDL “good” cholesterol lower than 35 mg/dl or a triglyceride level over 250 mg/dl.



Some risk factors are out of your control, including:

  • Race or ethnicity: Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians have a higher than average risk.
  • Family history of diabetes: Having a parent or sibling with diabetes boost your risk.
  • Age: being 45 and older increase your risk of type 2 diabetes,
  • The more risk factors you have, the greater your odds or developing type 2 diabetes.



Having gestational diabetes when you’re pregnant puts you at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later on. Women who give birth to a baby weighing over nine pounds are also at risk. Having a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can also cause insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.



In a healthy person, insulin helps food into energy – in an efficient manner. The stomach breaks down carbohydrates from food into sugars, including glucose. Glucose then enters the bloodstream which stimulates the pancreas to release insulin in just the right amount. Insulin, a hormone, allows glucose to enter cells throughout the body, where it is used as fuel. Excess glucose is stored in the liver.



In type 2 diabetes, the cells cannot absorb glucose properly. That means glucose levels in the blood become elevated. It you’ve developed a condition called insulin resistance, the body makes excess insulin, but the muscle, liver, and fat cells to not use or respond properly to the insulin. With long-standing uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, the pancreas will reduce the amount of insulin it produces.



A simple blood test can diagnose diabetes. The A1C (HbA1c) test gives a snapshot of your average blood glucose level over the past 2 – 3 months (technically 4 months). An A1c level of 6.5% or higher may indicate diabetes. With a fasting plasma glucose test, a result above a certain range is considered diabetes. Your doctor may order an oral glucose challenge test with a two-hour blood test. In people with classic symptoms of diabetes, a random blood glucose of greater than 200 can help diagnose diabetes.



Fortunately, controlling blood sugar levels by changing diet can also cut your risk of complications. People with type 2 diabetes should carefully monitor carbohydrate consumption, as well as total fat and protein intake, and reduce calories. Ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian/nutritionist to help you with healthy choices and an eating plan that will work for you.



Routine exercise, such as strength training or walking, improves the body’s use of insulin and can lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Being active also helps reduce body fat, lower blood pressure, and protect against heart disease. People with type 2 diabetes should try to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.



Stress can cause blood pressure to rise. It can also increase glucose levels in your blood as part of your “fight or flight” response. Or you may turn to food to cope with stress. All are bad when living with diabetes. Instead of letting stress take its toll, try practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or visualization. Sometimes talking to a friend, family member, counselor, or member of the clergy can help. If you’re still battling stress, reach out to doc.



When people with type 2 diabetes, are unable to control blood sugar sufficiently with diet an exercise, medication may be added. There are many types of diabetes pills available, and they are often used in combination. Some may work by stimulating the pancreas to make more insulin, and others improve the effectiveness of insulin, or block the digestion of starches.



Your doc may prescribe insulin early on in your treatment and in combination with pills. Insulin is also used in people with type2 diabetes who develop “beta-cell failure.” This means the cells in the pancreas no longer produce insulin in response to high blood sugar levels. In this case, insulin therapy – injections or an insulin pump – must become part of the daily routine.



New drugs are available for people with type 2 diabetes. Pramlintide (symlin), esenatide (Byetta), and liraglutide (Victoza) are non-insulin injectable drugs. Whereas insulin pulls glucose into the cells, these medications cause the body to release insulin to control blood sugar levels.



Testing your blood glucose level will let you know how controlled your blood sugars are and if you need to take actions to change your treatment plan. How often and when you test will be based on how controlled your diabetes is, the type of therapy used to control your diabetes, and whether you re experiencing symptoms of fluctuating sugars. Talk with your doc to find out how often you should use a glucometer to check your blood sugar. Some common testing times may be when waking up, before and after meals and exercise, and at bedtime. Continuous glucose monitor (GEM) may be useful to those with type 1 diabetes to help lower their blood glucose.




Over time, untreated type2 diabetes can damage many of the body’s systems. About two out of three people with diabetes die of heart disease. Having diabetes also puts you at two to four times higher risk for stroke. People with diabetes are likely to develop plaque in their arteries, reducing blood flow and increasing risk of clots.  This hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.



The longer you have diabetes, the greater the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for the majority of cases on renal dialysis. Controlling risk factors such as uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol reduces your risk of developing this complication. Annual screening for kidney disease and medications, which slow the development and progression of kidney disease, are used to reduce your risk of kidney failure.



High blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the retina, the part of the eye where an image is formed. This is known as diabetic retinopathy, and it can cause progressive, irreversible vision loss. It’s the leading cause of new cases of blindness in people between the ages of 20 and 74. Pools of blood, or hemorrhages, on the retina are visible to the doc examining the eye.



Over time, uncontrolled diabetes and elevated blood sugars create a very real risk for nerve damage. Symptoms can include numbness, pain, and a pins and needles sensation – often in the fingers, hands, toes, or feet. The damage is not reversible, but treatments can help with the pain and numbness. And controlling your diabetes can help prevent further damage.



Diabetic nerve damage can make it difficult to feel your feet and detect injury. At the same time, hardening of the arteries results in poor blood flow to the feet. Foot sores and gangrene can occur, even from small injury. In severe cases, infections can go unchecked and result in an amputation.



One of the most interesting things about type 2 diabetes is that such a life-altering condition is often preventable. To lower your risk, follow the same guidelines for warding off heard disease:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week, at least.
  • Maintain healthy weight
  • Talk to your doctor about being screened for prediabetes

In people with prediabetes, lifestyle changes and medication can help prevent the progression to typoe2 diabetes.

See you next week.

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  1. September 28, 2014

    To Dr Emanuel .

    Hello and good morning my people. I want to say thank you to Dr Emanuel for this information. I hope our citizens read this report and pay attention to the symptoms and causes and please look at their life style.

  2. September 27, 2014

    This is a very detailed article and I just hope that those with diabetes will take the doctors advise if they want to live.

  3. September 27, 2014

    :( got this just found this out

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