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Type 2 diabetes accounts for around 90% of cases in the UK. Unlike type 1 diabetes, the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop over a long period and may be easily overlooked. It is estimated that over half a million people in the UK may have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, creating a significant risk to their long-term health.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body’s ability to utilise insulin is compromised, or insufficient insulin is produced. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in the blood stream. In diabetes this can remain at abnormally high levels, leading to cell damage, most notably in the the eyes, nerves, and kidneys. It is also a significant contributor to damage to blood vessels of the heart and brain.

Early diagnosis, as with any condition, is vital to mitigate these health risks. However, type 2 diabetes is persistently diagnosed late, meaning that for many patients there may already have been a detrimental effect of their health. Indeed, approximately 1 in three patients will have some degree of kidney, nerve, or eye damage by the time they are officially diagnosed.

The common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night.
  • Extreme thirst.
  • Feeling more tired than usual.
  • Losing weight without trying to.
  • Genital itching or thrush.
  • Cuts and wounds take longer to heal.
  • Blurred vision.

This list is not exhaustive, and these symptoms are not diagnostic of type 2 diabetes but should provoke further investigation by your doctor. Often such symptoms are put down to old age, stress, and other factors, increasing the likely hood of misdiagnosis.

The prominent risk factors for type 2 diabetes are:

  • Age 45 or older
  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising regularly
  • Race and ethnicity (South Asian and black people are two to four times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than white people).
  • History of gestational diabetes (pregnancy induced diabetes)
  • A high triglyceride level
  • Smoking

Diabetes UK have an excellent online risk assessment tool for type 2 diabetes, based on factors including age, race and BMI. This tool can be accessed here.

The facts and figures relating to diabetes in the UK are stark and the burden, both financial for the NHS, and personal on patients, families and carers is increasing.

If we consider, for example that people with type 2 diabetes are 2.5 times as likely to suffer a heart attack or heart failure and twice as likely to suffer a stroke, the impetus to improve diagnosis and treatment is clear.


  1. Diabetes UK (2019), Us, Diabetes and a lot of facts and stats. Accessed 1st December 2020. []

Written by James Calvesbert (ECG Clinical Trainer), Thursday 3rd December 2020