Five things you need to know about type 2 diabetes

I met Laura (not her real name) while I was working on a diabetes prevention project. Laura was in her 50s, and she had been living with diabetes for about 15 years. She had a great attitude, and she managed her disease well. I asked her how she did this. Her secret? Her family, her friends and her pet golden retriever, Blondie.

Laura knew what the experts know, too, that having a strong network of social support can help maintain a healthy lifestyle. And she knew that Blondie made sure she got outside at least once a day for a walk, rain or snow or shine.

Type 2 diabetes runs in my family. My parents, aunts, uncles and cousins have it, and my brother has pre-diabetes. But just because they have diabetes doesn’t mean I will get it.

In honor of November, Diabetes Awareness Month, here are five important facts I’ve learned about type 2 diabetes.

  1. Type 2 diabetes is preventable. Even if diabetes runs in your family, you may not develop it. And if you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes (when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes), it doesn’t necessarily mean you will eventually have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with moderate weight loss (10–15 pounds) and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) each day.
  1. Type 2 diabetes is controllable. People with diabetes can lead healthy and full lives and prevent or delay complications by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and eating a balanced diet. For some people, a healthy lifestyle is enough to control their blood sugar levels. That means losing weight if you are overweight, eating healthy foods, and being more active. But most people with type 2 diabetes also need to take medicine or insulin.
  1. People with type 2 diabetes often do not have any symptoms. There are some typical symptoms of diabetes, but some people’s symptoms are so mild that they don’t notice them. Here are common symptoms of diabetes:
  • Urinating often
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet
  • Frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
  1. Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease. Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Having diabetes nearly doubles your chance of having a heart attack. People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing a number of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, and amputation of feet and lower legs. In addition, people with diabetes also have a higher risk of developing infections.
  1. Type 2 diabetes is a problem in Maine. Approximately 115,710 (8.7%) Mainers have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and another 93,100 (7%) have pre-diabetes. Rates are about the same for men and women in most years; and rates of both diabetes and pre-diabetes are higher for people living in the northern counties and Downeast. The total number of Mainers with diabetes or pre-diabetes is more than the entire population of York County.

Are you at risk?

It’s a good idea to know if you are at risk for diabetes. If you do have risk factors, you might want to consider changing some of your health behaviors now, to delay or prevent diabetes from developing later on.

Here’s the list of risk factors:

  1. Your mother, father, sister, or brother with diabetes
  2. You have high blood pressure
  3. You are over 45
  4. You are overweight or obese
  5. You carry your weight around your abdomen
  6. You are inactive
  7. You are African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, Native American or Pacific Islander
  8. You have been told you have pre-diabetes
  9. For women:
    • You developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant
    • You gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
    • You have polycystic ovarian syndrome.

You can take the American Diabetes Association’s online test here to see if what your risk is for developing type 2 diabetes:

And if you want to find a pet like Blondie to help you stay active, check out your local animal shelter!

For more information on diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association website at or the Maine Diabetes Prevention and Control Program.

Alison Webb

About Alison Webb

Alison Webb is a public health consultant with over 20 years experience in community outreach, grassroots organizing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based programs, and advocating for healthy policies at the Maine State Legislature. Alison is especially interested in what science tells us about promoting health and wellness and how we can apply that to live well in Maine. The blog describes recent public health research and give readers insights into how to use that knowledge to lead healthy lives.