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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Is it possible to cure Type 2 diabetes?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Mary Pickett, M.D. is an Associate professor at Oregon Health & Science University where she is a primary care doctor for adults. She supervises and educates residents in the field of Internal Medicine, for outpatient and hospital care. She is a Lecturer for Harvard Medical School and a Senior Medical Editor for Harvard Health Publications.

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February 03, 2012
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A:

Normally, the hormone insulin triggers a cascade of metabolism activity. When insulin meets a cell in your muscle, fat tissue, or liver, it causes this cell to “soak up” glucose from the blood stream. Then, each cell either packages this sugar for storage or puts the sugar to use as fuel.

With type 2 diabetes, your cells don’t respond normally to insulin. This is called “insulin resistance.” This problem gets worse if you are overweight. It also gets worse with illness, pregnancy, and ongoing use of some medicines. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, and “antipsychotic” medicines used to treat confusion or psychotic symptoms are especially likely to cause insulin resistance.

Diabetes is typically a life-long condition. Most people who have type 2 diabetes will always need drug therapy to control blood sugars. It helps compensate for their insulin resistance.

But a small number of people with type 2 diabetes can be “cured.” In some cases, losing a large amount of weight can get your insulin function back to normal. Examples include:

  • Obese people that are treated with weight loss surgery.
  • High blood sugars that occur when a person is severely ill. The person’s metabolism may return to normal after the illness is gone.
  • Diabetes caused by a medicine. Blood sugars may fall into the normal range if the medicine is stopped.

Most doctors are reluctant to say diabetes is “cured,” even if the response to insulin appears to become normal. People who have developed diabetes at any time are more likely to have it return. Your doctor will periodically check blood tests to see if the diabetes is coming back. The blood test used most often is called hemoglobin A1C.

By maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly, you decrease your risk of diabetes returning.

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