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What Is Type 2 Diabetes? Am I at Risk?

a stethoscope and syringe resting on a flier that says diabetesDiabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a metabolic disorder in which the body doesn’t make enough insulin, is not able to use it effectively or both. [1],[2] (Produced by the pancreas, insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose.) Because of this pancreatic dysfunction, people with diabetes have high blood glucose levels—also known as high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.[3]

In short, type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults and is marked by the body’s inability to produce insulin.[4] Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy.

So, what is type 2 diabetes?

The most common form of diabetes, type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance.[5] In someone with type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to properly use insulin and, to make up for the disparity, the pancreas makes more of the hormone. Type 2 diabetes must be treated when the pancreas ceases to produce enough insulin to maintain blood glucose levels.

What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?

There are many risk factors for diabetes. Some are controllable (e.g., behavioral), and others are uncontrollable (e.g., genetic). Common risk factors include the following[6],[7]:

  • Age – risk increases for those age 45 and older
  • Weight – the more fatty tissue you have, the more insulin-resistant your cells become
  • Inactivity – physically active fewer than three times per week
  • Family history – especially those with a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
  • Ethnicity – those with African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage
  • High blood pressure – 140/90 or higher
  • Gestational diabetes – those who developed gestational diabetes while pregnant or have birth to a baby that weight more than 9 pounds
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels – HDL cholesterol (i.e., “good” cholesterol) of less than 35 or triglyceride levels higher than 250
  • Blood vessel problems affecting the heart, brain or legs

There are online tools such as the American Diabetes Association’s Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test that you can use to assess your risk for diabetes. The results are not a replacement for professional medical advice, but they may help you consider lifestyle changes or encourage you to see your healthcare provider.

Discuss your risk factors, family health history, changes in your health and any other concerns you may have with your healthcare provider. He or she may recommend tests for diabetes or prediabetes, which is often a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Can diabetes be prevented?

Fortunately, type 2 diabetes can often be prevented or delayed through healthful habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and being active.[8]

Visit your doctor for routine preventive care, and schedule an appointment for a check-up if you see changes in your health. If you do develop diabetes, taking care of it can help prevent related complications.

 

 

References

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Causes of Diabetes.” June 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/causes-diabetes/Pages/index.aspx

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Prevent Diabetes Problems.” Feb. 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/your-guide-diabetes/Pages/prevent.aspx

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.” February 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/your-guide-diabetes/Pages/index.aspx


[1] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Cause of Diabetes.” June 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/causes-diabetes/Pages/index.aspx

[2] American Diabetes Association. “Type 2.” http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-2

[3] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.” February 2014. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/your-guide-diabetes/Pages/index.aspx

[4] American Diabetes Association. “Type 1.” http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-1/

[5] American Diabetes Association. “Type 2.” http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-2

[6] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Diabetes: Risk Factors.” MayoClinic.org. July 31, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/basics/risk-factors/con-20033091

[7] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Diabetes Risk Factors.” http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/ndep/am-i-at-risk/diabetes-risk-factors/Pages/diabetesriskfactors.aspx

[8] American Diabetes Association. “Are You at Risk?” http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/

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