What is Late Onset Diabetes?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Late onset diabetes is a medical condition characterized by difficulty processing dietary sugar as a result of the development of resistance in the body to insulin, the hormone involved in glucose metabolism. It is one of a family of conditions known colloquially as “diabetes” and is the most common form of diabetes, occurring at any point during adulthood. It is also known as adult onset, age onset, non-insulin-dependent, or type II diabetes. Patients with this condition may be able to manage it with diet and exercise alone, and in other cases medications are needed to address the issue.

Several abdominal organs, including the pancreas, which is associated with diabetes.
Several abdominal organs, including the pancreas, which is associated with diabetes.

In patients with late onset diabetes, two different phenomena can occur. One is that the pancreas may fail to produce insulin in the quantities needed, leading to a difficulty with processing glucose. The body can also become resistant to insulin. Whether the body is producing enough, the patient has trouble utilizing the hormone effectively. This leads to an increase in blood sugar over time and can cause complications like neuropathy and high blood pressure.

Physicians recommend regular diabetes screenings for people over the age of 45.
Physicians recommend regular diabetes screenings for people over the age of 45.

This form of diabetes is less severe than type I diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. Especially if caught early, it can be very manageable and the patient's risk of complications like vision loss is greatly reduced. In patients who cannot control their diabetes adequately, it may be necessary to take insulin shots, belying the name “non-insulin-dependent diabetes,” and other medications may be used in the management of the condition as well, depending on the symptoms the patient experiences.

People at risk of developing late onset diabetes are primarily older adults who are overweight and do not get adequate exercise. People with this condition can develop symptoms like fatigue, thirst, frequent urination, and blurred vision. Medical evaluation will reveal increased blood glucose, indicative of diabetes. Depending on how high the patient's blood sugar is and what complications have developed, treatment can vary from relatively conservative measures to more aggressive ones, with the goal of controlling and limiting damage inside the patient's body.

After people have developed late onset diabetes, they cannot reverse the condition. There are steps people can take to reduce their risk of developing it or to get high blood sugar under control before full-blown diabetes develops. If a doctor believes late onset diabetes is a concern, blood testing can be used to check for the signs of pre-diabetes, where blood sugar is starting to rise and the patient is beginning to experience symptoms.

Late onset diabetes is often referred to as type 2 diabetes.
Late onset diabetes is often referred to as type 2 diabetes.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


While developing late onset diabetes in life is not usually as serious as someone who has it from a young age, it still motivates a person to make some lifestyle changes.

Many times elevated blood sugar levels can be prevented by keeping your weight under control, exercising and avoiding a lot of high sugar foods.

My husband likes to drink a lot of soda and I keep worrying about his blood sugar levels. At his last physical they told him he was pre-diabetic and would need to watch his blood sugar closely and lose some weight.

He has cut back on the amount of soda pop he drinks, but has not lost weight and I don't think his blood sugar levels will be down at his next checkup.

When he first got the test results back it was a wake up call for him and he really made some changes. As time has gone on though, he has slid back into his old habits, and I think he will have another wake up call when he gets his next blood sugar results.


Receiving a diagnosis of late onset diabetes can be quite surprising - especially if you don't have a history of diabetes in your family.

This happened to my aunt who was active, was not overweight and did not know anyone in her family who had been diagnosed with diabetes. She has to constantly watch what she eats and monitors her blood sugar levels several times throughout the day.

She was in her 60's when she found out she had this diabetes. It has certainly changed her lifestyle even though she didn't think she was doing anything to contribute to it in the first place.


@Potterspop - I agree with you. I also went to the doctor a few months ago and while the doctor loved that I was active and had a healthy blood pressure reading, he did tell me that I needed to lose weight because he was concerned with fat around my stomach area.

He says that that raises my chances of developing diabetes. After that doctor visit, I have completely changed my lifestyle and incorporated a lot of fruits and vegetables. I think that this was the kick in the pants that I needed to be fully committed to a healthy lifestyle.


Lonelygod- I know that controlling cravings can be difficult especially with respect to sugar because it is so addictive. I will tell you what works for me is eating a lot of lean meat with vegetables or a lot of salads. When you limit the sugar that you eat, you do get cravings for a few days but it goes away and then you no longer crave the foods that you used to.

It also helps to control your blood sugar so that you don’t experience those dips in your energy in the late afternoon. Eating beans or foods with cinnamon also tend to keep your blood sugar steady and eliminate sugar cravings.

I also heard that chromium picolinate supplements are also supposed to regulate blood sugar which cuts down on your sugar cravings too. I hope that helps.


@lonelygod - If you are worried about developing late onset diabetes you really need to drop the sugary drinks and get more serious about what you eat. While sugar cravings are normal, they can also cause a lot of health issues.

One of the best things you can do if you are craving something sugary is try and eat some fruit. The natural sugars in fruit are quite sweet and don't cause the damage that processed sugars do when they are ingested.

If you really need to drink something sweet I would switch to diet sodas or sugar free drink mixes. While neither of these things are perfectly happy they will keep your blood sugar levels from spiking.


AngelBraids- I that is fantastic that you were able to take control of your weight that way. I think that fear is a great motivator and it can get us to do remarkable things.

For example, my older sister developed polyps in her colon and she was only 45 at the time and her husband developed colon cancer at the same time this happened to her.

My sister was a little overweight but remarkable lost 30 pounds when she flew down to see us for the holidays. Her doctor told her that a healthy diet rich in fiber would lower her risk of developing colon cancer.

My sister is now 52 and she is still thin and eats a very healthy diet. So sometimes when bad things happen to us we can learn from them and change our lives for the better. She also told me that she has more energy and is always trying new healthy foods to make her meals more enjoyable.


My mother suffers from late onset diabetes and I am really worried that I will follow in her footsteps and have difficultly processing sugars as I age. I try my best to watch what I eat and exercise but overcoming sugar cravings is a really big issue.

Does anyone have any tips on what to eat if you want to get a sugar fix without the risk?

I usually head straight to real soda when I get a craving for sugar, which I know is one of the worst things I can do. I usually feel like I make up for it at the gym, but I really would like to find a good supplement.


@angelBraids - Well done for losing all that weight and getting healthy.

I can tell you from my own experience that getting diabetes as a middle aged person is no fun. To know that I could have helped avoid it by controlling my weight and doing some exercise makes me feel a little ashamed.

The silver lining is that I can largely control it through diet and lifestyle. I am sure I'd learn to cope with injections and medications if I had to, but I'd rather not.


My doctor scared me badly when she said I was at serious risk of developing diabetes. Largely this was due to my weight, which topped the scales at 295 pounds.

When a gastric bypass was offered I took a week to think about it. That was enough time for me to decide I wanted to have better health and live without the threat of a major condition hanging over my head. Two years later I am within the average weight for my height and a bit of an exercise bore!

I've been invited to give several talks to groups of people considered at risk of becoming diabetic. This is something I'm proud to do, and if I can inspire just one person each time it's well worth it.

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