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Type 2 diabetes

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not make enough insulin.
  • You need insulin to process the glucose in your food to give you energy.
  • Symptoms include feeling tired, hungry or thirsty, and passing more urine.
  • Lack of exercise, weight gain and a poor diet increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Keeping active, with a healthy diet and weight, can help prevent or delay it.

On this page

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not make enough insulin or does not use insulin efficiently. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to break down glucose (sugar) in food so it can be used for energy.

In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin. This causes glucose to stay in the blood, leading to a higher than normal level of glucose in the body.

illustration of diabetes
Insulin and glucose production in type 2 diabetes: Insulin (green dots) is produced in the pancreas, and acts with glucose (blue dots) to regulate energy in the body's cells.

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What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Many people with type 2 diabetes do not experience any symptoms at first. If they do have symptoms, these may include:

  • being very thirsty
  • passing more urine
  • feeling tired
  • feeling hungry
  • having cuts that heal slowly

Over time, diabetes can lead to complications, which can then cause other symptoms.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our diabetes Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

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What causes type 2 diabetes?

The cause of type 2 diabetes is not known. However, risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include:

  • family history
  • a low level of physical activity
  • poor diet
  • excess weight around the waist

ARE YOU AT RISK? — Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease? Use our Risk Checker to find out.

NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT? — Use our BMI Calculator to find out if your weight and waist size are in a healthy range.

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How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you have diabetes, you will probably need to have a blood test to assess your glucose level. It is important for diabetes to be diagnosed early, whether it’s type 1 or type 2 diabetes. That way, it can be better controlled and complications can be avoided.

During a test, blood is taken from a vein and sent to a pathology lab. The tests that can be done include:

  • a fasting sugar (glucose) test — fasting is required for at least 8 hours, which may mean not eating or drinking overnight
  • a random glucose test taken at any time during the day
  • an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) — a patient who has fasted drinks a sugary drink and then has a blood test done 1 and then 2 hours later

Watch the first video below to learn why it’s important to detect undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. The second video tells you all about the HbA1c test, another type of blood test that can be used to diagnose diabetes.

Video provided by Diabetes Australia.

Video provided by Lab Tests Online

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How is type 2 diabetes managed?

Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed — at least as a first step — by making lifestyle changes, including:

  • learning to control and monitor your diabetes with the help of your doctor
  • following a healthy diet
  • being physically active

There are many types of diabetes medications and they work in different ways to control blood glucose. If you have diabetes, over time it can change, meaning your medications may need to change too. For example, you may need more than one medication to control your blood glucose levels.

If you are living with type 2 diabetes, you can join the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) to access support services, including free or subsidised products. Visit Diabetes Australia for information and resources.

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When should I see my doctor?

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss them since they might indicate undiagnosed type 2 diabetes:

  • being very thirsty
  • passing more urine
  • feeling tired
  • feeling hungry
  • having cuts that heal slowly

Your doctor will look at your symptoms, review any risk factors you have for type 2 diabetes and they will recommend you be tested if needed.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — Our Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use our Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

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Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by:

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Complications of type 2 diabetes

Treating type 2 diabetes is important to prevent long-term complications, such as:

Watch this video to learn how to take care of your feet if you have diabetes. The video is available in multiple languages.

Video provided by Diabetes Victoria.

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Common questions

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease where the body's immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is associated with hereditary factors and lifestyle risk factors such as poor diet, insufficient physical activity and being overweight or obese.

What are the first signs of type 2 diabetes?

Many people with type 2 diabetes do not experience any symptoms at first. If they do have symptoms, these may include being very thirsty, passing more urine than usual, feeling tired, feeling hungry or having cuts that heal slowly.

Can type 2 diabetes be cured?

Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, but people with the condition may be able to manage their type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes and, if needed, diabetes medications to control blood sugar levels.

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Resources and support

For more information and support, try these resources:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

This information has been developed for indigenous communities:

Other languages

Do you prefer other languages than English? These websites offer translated information about diabetes:

Apps and tools

You might find these apps and tools helpful:

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Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2019

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