While doctors do not know exactly what causes type 2 diabetes, they do have a very good understanding of the risk factors for developing the disease. Many of the risk factors are preventable and several studies show that limiting them can reduce your chances of developing the disease. What follows are the non-controllable and controllable risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.
Non-controllable risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
People who have a close relative with type 2 diabetes are much more likely to develop the disease themselves. However, it does not mean that you are guaranteed to have type 2 diabetes if your mother did. Genetic studies suggest that you can inherit a tendency to develop type 2 diabetes, but that you can still avoid the disease in many cases by limiting the preventable risk factors such as obesity.
For unknown reasons, several ethnic groups have a higher than average risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These include Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanic/Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans.
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases as we age and becomes significantly higher after age 45. This could be due to changes in hormonal patterns that occur with age or to changes in the distribution of muscle and fat that also tend to accompany aging. However, don't think that only those older than 45 can get type 2 diabetes. On the contrary, diabetes rates have recently been on the rise in young adults and even in adolescents and children.
Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that develops in pregnant women and which usually resolves after delivery. However, someone who develops gestational diabetes during pregnancy is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later on in life.
Controllable risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
A major preventable risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes is carrying excess weight. The risk is highest if you carry the weight mostly around the middle of your body (an "apple" shaped body). Excess fat appears to contribute directly to insulin resistance, though it is unclear exactly how this happens.
Carrying extra weight also heightens your risk of developing several other diseases including heart disease and stroke. The body mass index or BMI is a general measure of how much excess weight one carries. Your BMI takes into account your height and weight; higher numbers mean you carry more fat. If your BMI is above 25 but below 30, you are considered overweight. If your BMI is between 30 and 39 you are considered obese, while a BMI 40 or above is considered extremely or "morbidly" obese.
The less active you are, the greater your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Exercising fewer than three times a week can be considered a potential risk factor for developing diabetes. Not only does physical activity help control weight, it allows your body to use up blood sugar, makes your cells more sensitive to insulin, and boosts your level of "good" cholesterol.
Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be called type 2 diabetes. Without lifestyle changes, prediabetes often progresses to type 2 diabetes.
Other risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include:
-- Poor diet
-- Previous diagnosis with impaired glucose tolerance or high fasting glucose levels
-- High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher)
-- HDL cholesterol of less than 35 mg/dL or triglyceride level of greater than 250 mg/dL
-- Polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS (women only)
-- Other clinical conditions associated with insulin resistance
Continued on page 5: How do I know if I have type 2 diabetes?