Questions and answers: type 2 diabetes

Foundation, in collaboration with Dr. Martin Juneau, cardiologist and Director of Prevention at the Institute

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The statistics for type 2 diabetes are concerning: it is the world’s fifth leading cause of death due in part to the effects it can have on a person’s cardiovascular health. Dr. Martin Juneau, cardiologist and Director of Prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute, answers your questions about this disease that affects approximately 422 million adults in the world.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that is generally caused by a patient’s poor lifestyle habits. It results in hyperglycemia: high levels of sugar in the blood. This excess occurs when the body resists the effects of insulin. More accurately, the patient continues to produce insulin, but the organs have become resistant to this hormone. Over time, the cells lose their ability to absorb sugar, which leads to an increase of blood glucose levels.

At first, the patient’s pancreas tries to make up for this resistance by producing more insulin that it usually does. But as time goes by, the pancreas can’t keep up and will even stop producing insulin. That’s when the patient has diabetes.

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 is not caused by poor lifestyle habits. Actually, we still don’t know the exact cause of type 1 diabetes. It is usually diagnosed before a person reaches their 20s and approximately 10% of the population is affected by this condition.

This type of diabetes is due to the pancreas ceasing production of insulin and as a result, patients need to inject doses of insulin every day.

What are the factors of risk that can lead to type 2 diabetes?

There are many underlying causes and it is a combination of these factors that will often lead to type 2 diabetes. These include:

  • Being overweight
  • Unhealthy dietary habits
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure which is often associated with resistance to insulin and diabetes
  • Age: the older you get, the higher your chances of developing this disease

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Symptoms associated with diabetes are caused by higher than average levels of sugar in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia. The most common signs of hyperglycemia are:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Urinating frequently
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurry vision
  • Increase in hunger
  • Irritability

If hyperglycemia remains untreated, more concerning symptoms may appear, such as:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Infection of the genitals
  • Infection of the bladder

What should I do if I think I have diabetes?

If you develop one or more symptoms listed above, the first thing you should do is consult your physician. They might ask for a blood test to measure the levels of sugar in your blood (glycemia). This blood test will allow them to check for hyperglycemia. If you have more severe symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention.

What are the possible complications of type 2 diabetes?

Cardiovascular diseases are the most common complication and the main cause of death in patients with type 2 diabetes. In fact, chronic hyperglycemia damages the blood vessels which in the long run can damage the heart.

Type 2 diabetes can also cause damage to a person’s kidneys, eyes, and nerves.

How can I reduce the risks of complications caused by type 2 diabetes?

In order to minimize your odds of developing complications, pay special attention to the following four facets of your lifestyle:

  • Your diet: you should make sure your diet contains lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and omega-3. You should also reduce your intake of red meat, charcuterie, sweet drinks, and salt.
  • Exercise: try to move every day for at least 20 minutes. Exercising will help regulate your blood glucose level. It’s a good strategy if you want to put the odds in your favour to prevent or reverse your diabetes.
  • Smoking cessation: tobacco is harmful for your overall health. If you smoke, take measures to reduce your tobacco consumption with the goal of quitting smoking altogether.
  • Alcohol consumption: limit your alcohol intake to 1 glass or less per day if you are a woman and 1 to 2 glasses per day if you are a man. And don’t drink every day.

Is there a treatment for type 2 diabetes?

Yes. Until recently, type 2 diabetes was considered an irreversible disease. However, recent studies have shown that many patients have gone into remission or have greatly improved their condition by making major lifestyle changes. These changes, which lead to weight loss, allowed certain patients to normalize their blood glucose levels without medication and to go into partial or full remission.

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