Diabetes is a condition characterized by high blood sugar (glucose) levels, and Type 2 diabetes is the most common form.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease, and left untreated, it can cause serious health complications. Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes (the majority of which are Type 2), but 7 million don't know they have it, according to a 2011 report.
A hormone called insulin helps sugar get inside cells, which can then be used for energy. When the body's cells fail to respond properly to insulin, sugar builds up in the bloodstream, eventually leading to Type 2 diabetes.
Exactly why the body fails to respond to insulin, a phenomenon called insulin resistance, is not known, but risk factors include being overweight, inactive or older than 45. It is thought that increases in body fat makes it harder for the body to use insulin.
In contrast to Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas makes little or no insulin.
According to the National Institute of Health, early symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include increased thirst, increased urination, hunger, fatigue and more frequent or slow to heal infections, such as bladder, kidney and skin infections. Some people with the condition do not experience symptoms for many years.
After many years, Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health issues, including eye problems and blindness, nerve damage that causes pain, tingling and numbness, kidney damage and poor blood flow to the legs and feet, the NIH says.
The initial focus of diabetes treatment is to lower blood sugar levels. People with Type 2 diabetes should consult with their doctor about how often they should check their blood sugar levels, which is done with a device called a glucose meter. Keeping track of your glucose levels will let you and your doctor know if changes need to be made to your diet, activity or medications.
It is important for people with Type 2 diabetes to manage their weight and have a well-balanced diet. While there is no one "diabetes diet," patients should focus on eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less refined carbohydrates and sweets, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Physical activity is also important, and those with Type 2 diabetes should aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes at day. While some people can control Type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise alone, others may need to take medications, such as metformin, according to Mayo. Some people with Type 2 diabetes may need insulin injections.
Weight loss surgery, or bariatric surgery, is also an option for very obese patients who have trouble managing their diabetes with diet, exercise and medications, the NIH says.
Type 2 diabetes has traditionally been seen as a progressive disease that is managed rather than cured. Just because a patient can stop taking diabetes medications does not mean their diabetes is cured, the NIH says.
And some may be able to return their blood sugar levels to normal by following a diet and exercise program, although this is very rare. In a 2012 study of 4,500 people with Type 2 diabetes, 1.3 percent were able to achieve normal blood sugar levels with diet and exercise.