Another dipstick test can determine the presence of protein or albumin in the urine. Protein in the urine can indicate problems with kidney function and can be used to track the development of renal failure. A more sensitive test for urine protein uses radioactively tagged chemicals to detect microalbuminuria, small amounts of protein in the urine, that may not show up on dipstick tests.
Type 2 diabetes is believed to have a strong genetic link, meaning that it tends to run in families. Several genes are being studied that may be related to the cause of type 2 diabetes. If you have any of the following type 2 diabetes risk factors, it’s important to ask your doctor about a diabetes test. With a proper diabetes diet and healthy lifestyle habits, along with diabetes medication, if necessary, you can manage type 2 diabetes just like you manage other areas of your life. Be sure to continue seeking the latest information on type 2 diabetes as you become your own health advocate.
Doctors can also measure the level of a protein, hemoglobin A1C (also called glycosylated or glycolated hemoglobin), in the blood. Hemoglobin is the red, oxygen-carrying substance in red blood cells. When blood is exposed to high blood glucose levels over a period of time, glucose attaches to the hemoglobin and forms glycosylated hemoglobin. The hemoglobin A1C level (reported as the percentage of hemoglobin that is A1C) reflects long-term trends in blood glucose levels rather than rapid changes.
“It’s not like you wake up one day and all of a sudden you’re thirsty, hungry, and [going to the bathroom] all the time,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Illinois and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It picks up gradually.” Indeed, “most people are unaware that they have diabetes in its early or even middle phases,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff physician at Joslin Diabetes Center. Just because you’re not keyed in doesn’t mean you’re immune from problems associated with diabetes, he adds. The longer you go without controlling diabetes, the greater your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, blindness, and other serious complications. “We recommend that people with risk factors for diabetes, such as a family history or being overweight, get evaluated on a regular basis,” Dr. Cypess says. If you’ve been feeling off, talk to your doctor about getting a simple blood test that can diagnose the disease. And pay attention to these subtle signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus (non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus [NIDDM]) is a heterogeneous disorder. Most patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus have insulin resistance, and their beta cells lack the ability to overcome this resistance.  Although this form of diabetes was previously uncommon in children, in some countries, 20% or more of new patients with diabetes in childhood and adolescence have type 2 diabetes mellitus, a change associated with increased rates of obesity. Other patients may have inherited disorders of insulin release, leading to maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) or congenital diabetes. [7, 8, 9] This topic addresses only type 1 diabetes mellitus. (See Etiology and Epidemiology.)
Poor vision, limited manual dexterity due to arthritis, tremor, or stroke, or other physical limitations may make monitoring blood glucose levels more difficult for older people. However, special monitors are available. Some have large numerical displays that are easier to read. Some provide audible instructions and results. Some monitors read blood glucose levels through the skin and do not require a blood sample. People can consult a diabetes educator to determine which meter is most appropriate.
Using insulin to get blood glucose levels to a healthy level is a good thing, not a bad one. For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with a combination of meal planning, physical activity, and taking oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin, and eventually oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range.
Older people may have a difficult time adding exercise to their daily life, particularly if they have not been active or if they have a disorder that limits their movement, such as arthritis. However, they may be able to add exercise to their usual routine. For example, they can walk instead of drive or climb the stairs instead of take the elevator. Also, many community organizations offer exercise programs designed for older people.
How does type 2 diabetes progress over time? Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, meaning that the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar gets worse over time, despite careful management. Over time, the body’s cells become increasingly less responsive to insulin (increased insulin resistance) and beta cells in the pancreas produce less and less insulin (called beta-cell burnout). In fact, when people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they usually have already lost up to 50% or more of their beta cell function. As type 2 diabetes progresses, people typically need to add one or more different types of medications. The good news is that there are many more choices available for treatments, and a number of these medications don’t cause as much hypoglycemia, hunger and/or weight gain (e.g., metformin, pioglitazone, DPP-4 inhibitors, GLP-1 agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors, and better insulin). Diligent management early on can help preserve remaining beta cell function and sometimes slow progression of the disease, although the need to use more and different types of medications does not mean that you have failed.
Over time, a prolonged exposure to high blood sugar can damage the nerves throughout the body — a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Some people may not have any symptoms of the damage, while others may notice numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities. “At the beginning, [diabetic neuropathy] usually starts in the feet and then it progresses upward,” says Dr. Ovalle. Although most common in people who have had type 2 diabetes for 25 years or more, it can occur in people who have prediabetes as well. In some studies, almost 50 percent of unexplained peripheral neuropathy [in the extremities], whether painful or otherwise, turns out to be caused by prediabetes or diabetes, says Dr. Einhorn.