Type 2 diabetes in adults under 40.
Have you been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or are you worried you’re at risk? We’ve got all you need to know. We also have a page on children and type 2 diabetes.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes in young adults is known to be more aggressive than in older adults. With the right specialist support and treatment, it's possible to live well and avoid health problems called diabetes complications.
If it's left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to permanent damage in the body due to the build-up of sugar in the blood but this isn’t inevitable and there are ways to live well with type 2 diabetes.
What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?
Some people will have all the common symptoms of diabetes, others may only have a few or may not notice them, it really depends on the individual. You might not be aware of the symptoms of diabetes so here are the most common to look out for. It’s really important to see your GP if you notice any of these:
- Toilet – going for a wee more often, especially at night.
- Thirsty – being constantly thirsty and not being able to quench it.
- Tired – being incredibly tired and having no energy.
- Thinner – losing weight without trying to, or looking thinner than usual.
- Genital itching or thrush
- Cuts and wounds taking longer to heal
- Blurred vision
Learn more about the symptoms of diabetes.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes
Some things can increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. Because the symptoms of type 2 diabetes are not always obvious, it’s really important to be aware of these risk factors. They can include:
- Normally, type 2 diabetes is more prevalent if you’re white and over 40, or over 25 if you’re African Caribbean, Black African, or South Asian (Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi)
- If you are living with obesity or overweight
- If your waist size is too large
- Ethnicity. You're more at risk if you're of African Caribbean, Black African, or South Asian (Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi) or Chinese descent
- Family history. For example, if you have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- Medical history. For example, if you have a history of high blood pressure, heart attack or strokes. If you have had gestational diabetes, if you live with a severe mental illness or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Understanding your risk
The reasons people are at risk can be different and some people are more at risk than others, because of factors like ethnicity, family history and weight. There are some things you can’t change, but research has shown that for some people, getting support to make changes to your lifestyle, including healthy eating, moving more and losing weight, can help reduce your risk by about 50%.
Our research shows that two-thirds of 18-39-year-olds don’t know the symptoms of type 2 diabetes or how to find out their type 2 diabetes risk. We have developed a free online tool called ‘Know Your Risk’ to help with this. By using Know Your Risk, you can find out whether you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and get support to lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the future.
The Know Your Risk tool uses your height, weight, waist measurement, and information about your ethnic background and family history to find out your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you enter your email, we’ll then give you more information about how to make healthy lifestyle changes to reduce your risk and keep it low.
We should all be aiming to sit less and move more. Moving more every day will help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your blood sugars levels. It can also help you sleep better and manage your stress levels and improve your mood. And remember, doing just a little bit more than you did before is a great start. Then keep increasing the intensity or the amount you’re doing
The government recommends that adults should be active at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week. You may find it easier to break this down to 30 minutes, five days a week. For vigorous activity, the recommendation is at least 75 minutes per week. This could be broken down to 15 minutes, five days per week if it helps.
It can feel daunting taking up a new exercise or sport but we know that moving more can play a part in preventing type 2 diabetes. Not only can moving more help you lose weight if you need to (which can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or may help some people put their diabetes into remission), there are so many other benefits to getting active and we have loads of advice on our website to help you take the first steps. Start with our Move More page
Make the most of all the support and services available in your area. Ask your GP about:
- a weight- management programme or group - there are Prevention Programmes available in England
- a registered dietitian or exercise specialist
- a type 2 diabetes prevention programme
It can also help to talk to family and friends – ask them to get involved too. It will help if they understand what you're doing and why it's so important. Plus, eating better and moving more is good for everyone, so you can do this together.
For more information on prevention,go to our preventing type 2 diabetes page.
We know that when it comes to food, making healthy choices isn't always easy. We've got loads of information and guides to help you eat well. To get you started, have a look at our wide selection of meal plans.
There is no such thing as a specific type 2 diabetes diet. What, and how much, you should eat depends on things like how active you are, what you enjoy, and whether you are aiming to lose weight.
However, it’s important to remember that a healthy, balanced diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, dairy and incorporates healthy choices from different food groups.
Check out our guide Eating well with diabetes. It’s available to download, or we can send a printed copy straight to your door. And we have hundreds of delicious and healthy recipes on our website waiting to inspire you.
Living with type 2 diabetes
Having diabetes and managing all the other aspects of your life can feel overwhelming at times but it’s important that you prioritise your health. Attending your appointments with your diabetes healthcare team will help you to look after yourself between appointments, let you know how well your diabetes is being managed and receive the diabetes checks you’re entitled to.
This is important so any problems or complications can be spotted early and treatment is not delayed. If you’re finding it too much to attend in person appointments, ask your healthcare team what other options are available like having your appointments online. Whatever you do, it’s important to keep your appointments and talk to your healthcare team if you need support. If you are finding it difficult to build a good relationship with your diabetes healthcare team or finding it hard to manage your diabetes read our tips.
You can download or order the booklet What Care To Expect for free which has information about what checks you're entitled to.
Will it go away?
Type 2 diabetes can’t be cured, but some people can put their diabetes into remission. There’s lots of evidence to show that some adults with type 2 who live with overweight or obesity can put their diabetes into remission by losing a substantial amount of weight.
Remission means that your blood sugar levels (also known as blood glucose levels) are below the diabetes range, for at least 3 months without you needing to take any diabetes medication.
We don’t have enough evidence that remission is permanent. It needs to be maintained and in many cases, blood sugar levels can come back into the diabetes range, which is why it is so important that people continue their diabetes appointments while in remission. Read about our research in this area.
It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional if you want to lose weight to make sure it’s the right decision for you. Weight loss isn’t appropriate for everyone so it’s important you have this discussion before you begin.They'll also be able to advise you on whether you can reduce or stop any of your medications before you start losing weight like insulin or sulphonylurea, for example.
Type 2 diabetes can cause long term complications such as heart disease, or damage to the kidneys, eyes or nerves. And young adults with type 2 diabetes are more at risk of developing these complications as they often happen sooner than they would in older adults. Type 2 diabetes may also cause complications during pregnancy that could affect both you and your baby.
Complications aren’t inevitable though, the risk of developing complications can be reduced by getting support to manage blood sugar levels and trying to keep your HbA1c within your target range. Blood pressure, cholesterol and weight are also important in reducing the risk of complications. It's important you attend your appointments and find out from your diabetes health care team how to look after yourself between appointments. For more information, visit our complications page.
What about medication?
Many people with type 2 diabetes need to take some medication. If you're diagnosed with type 2, the most common treatment is metformin but many people may need to take insulin at some point. There are a number of other medications used for type 2 diabetes. See our type 2 medicine page for more information.
How do I cope?
If you've recently found it you've got type 2 diabetes, it can be an emotional time and you may need some extra support. It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone and there is so much support out there to help you.
It's ok if you feel upset, frightened, or even angry. It's important to make sure you look after yourself and find time to relax. Think about how you can make sure you get enough sleep, and look after your other relationships with your partner, friends or family. Check out our Emotions and diabetes page for tips on managing stress.
It may be a good idea to tell your university or employer about your condition so that they can support you or make reasonable adjustments. As you may need to take time out to attend appointments, check your blood sugar levels or take your medication.
If you require more advice or support, please don’t hesitate to contact our helpline. Our Learning Zone can support you with videos, tips and information on managing diabetes, and you can also share tips or ask for support on our forum.
This page is intended for young adults under 40. If you're a parent of a child living with or who is at risk of type 2 diabetes check out our type 2 diabetes and children page.