Caused by a combination of your body’s inability to effectively use insulin and insufficient insulin production, Type 2 diabetes can have some serious health consequences. Not only is it the 7th leading cause of death in the United States, its long-term effects can include damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves, as well as an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
However, although it’s the most common form of diabetes, Type 2 diabetes is also the most preventable.
You may have heard of, or been diagnosed with, prediabetes. This means that, while your blood glucose levels aren’t high enough to be considered diabetic, you possess characteristics that indicate that you’re at an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes. Basically, it’s a warning sign that says, “Hey, unless you make some immediate and permanent lifestyle changes, you’re going to get diabetes.”
So, with prevention in mind, here are some Type 2 diabetes risk factors that you inherit and ones that you’re able to control.
As you age, your risk for developing diabetes increases. This, in large part, is due to decreased beta cell function within your pancreas (the cells are responsible for insulin production). Those over the age of 45 are at an increased risk for developing diabetes.
While one’s sex, in itself, is not a risk factor, whether or not a woman has developed gestational diabetes (GDM) during pregnancy is. In fact, research suggests that a woman who has had GDM is at as much as 7 times higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Race or Ethnicity
Although it’s still unclear whether discrepancies in diabetes prevalence is due to genetics or the lifestyles and diets of certain cultures, there are some races and ethnicities that have higher diabetes rates. According to the American Diabetes Association, the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes is highest in Native American and Pacific Islander populations, followed by African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Caucasians, in descending order of risk.
- Family History
Having a close family member (mother, father or sibling) with diabetes is an indicator of a genetic predisposition toward that condition. The more relatives with diabetes you have, the greater your chance of getting diabetes. For instance, people who have one parent with diagnosed Type 2 diabetes have about a 30 percent chance of developing it over their lifetimes. With two parents, it’s about a 60 percent chance.
- High Blood Pressure
Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is a risk factor for a number of serious conditions including diabetes. In fact, around 25 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes and 80 percent of those with Type 2 diabetes also have high blood pressure.
- Physical Activity
In addition to the many other health benefits that come with physical activity, exercise helps lower your blood glucose levels, manage weight and lower your risk for hypertension. When a patient asks how often they should be exercising, I tell them that they should exercise any day they eat, but the American Diabetes Association suggests you aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
Your BMI, or body mass index, is a calculation of your body weight to height ratio. While by no means a perfect indicator of a person’s health, it’s a standard screening tool to approximate body composition. In the case of diabetes, the accumulation of fat in one’s liver can affect the insulin production, causing diabetes. You can calculate your BMI here, but the further away you are from a healthy body mass, the greater your chance is for developing diabetes.
An important thing to remember about risk factors is that no one characteristic will definitively determine whether or not you develop Type 2 diabetes. Rather, it’s an accumulation of risk factors and how they interact to cause or complicate conditions.
If you think you’re at increased risk for developing diabetes, I suggest that you schedule an appointment with your primary care provider who can diagnose and treat your diabetes. Your PCP can also refer you to an endocrinologist, like myself, who specializes in the diagnosis and management of glandular diseases like diabetes.
If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with the disease, learn more about how the team at the Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center can teach you to better manage your condition.