Type 2 diabetes can be a silent enemy, lurking for years before you realise you have it.

Arming yourself with knowledge can help you to know if you’re in danger of the disease – and knowing how to manage your lifestyle can help you live a healthier life.

The root causes of Type 2 diabetes

Dr Duma Khutsoane, a physician of internal medicine specialising in diabetes at Mediclinic Bloemfontein, says the risk factors can be divided into two categories: non-modifiable and modifiable. 

Non-modifiable risk factors “are the things you can’t do much about”, Dr Khutsoane says. These include:

  • If you’re over the age of 45
  • If you have a close relative – such as a parent or sibling – with diabetes
  • If you had gestational diabetes in pregnancy
  • If you belong to an ethnic group that has a predisposition to the condition. Indian people, for example, have a high tendency.

“Modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, you can do something about,” Dr Khutsoane says.

You are at risk if you:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
  • Lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • Have a diet high in “bad” or saturated fats and eat a lot of junk food
  • Smoking

Danger signs

When it comes to symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, experts refer to the three Ps – polydipsia, polyuria and polyphagia. Polydipsia refers to excessive thirst, polyuria to the need to urinate frequently and polyphagia to a lack of energy and a feeling of extreme hunger.

In uncontrolled diabetes where blood glucose levels remain abnormally high, glucose from the blood can’t enter the cells because of a lack of insulin or insulin resistance so the body can’t convert your food into energy. Also, because you’re urinating a lot you’re shedding kilojoules in your urine, Dr Khutsoane explains, which increases feelings of hunger.

Having a sore that won’t heal is also a sign you could have diabetes, he adds.

“If you have any of these symptoms and you’re at risk either because of modifiable or non-modifiable factors, you need to see your doctor.”

Blood tests will be done to test the level of sugar in your blood.

Lifestyle management

Dr Khutsoane says depending on the serious of the condition, the drug Metformin is often prescribed for diabetes patients. A test called HBA1C is done to determine the level of sugar in your blood – if it’s over 7%, you may be advised to take medication.

“But lifestyle management if also essential,” he says. “In fact, it is the most important way of managing diabetes.”

Start exercising – 40 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, three to four times a week a great place to start.

Re-examine your diet. People with diabetes have an increased risk of a heart attack so cut out fatty and fried foods and full-fat dairy. Avoid sweets and sugary sodas and snack on green apples or green pears.

“It’s a good idea to see a dietician or nutritionist who can help you plan an eating plan,” Dr Khutsoane advises.

But the most important lifestyle management hack is to get the whole family on board, he says. “If you have a diabetic in your family, don’t make one meal for them and one for the rest of the family – it’s unfair and it’s unsustainable.

“The diabetic will want the fried chicken and chips you’re making for everyone else, not the little piece of lean breast and broccoli. A comprehensive change for everyone is not only important, it’s the right thing to do.

“Because if the father in the family, for example, is diabetic, the chances are one of the kids could become diabetic too. So by making changes to your lifestyle management you’re benefiting everyone.”

Doctors 1

Dr Duma Khutsoane, Physician
Medically reviewed by