Are You at Risk of Diabetes?
For many people, discovering they’re at risk for developing diabetes is a life-changing event. This includes altering their lifestyle or diet, keeping a much closer eye on their health, and looking out for certain risks associated with type 2 diabetes (T2D) such as foot and eye problems. But too many people associate T2D with just obesity or lack of exercise and may be unaware that there is also a genetic component tied to the disease.
Much of the publicity surrounding the epidemic growth of diabetes has warned about the risks associated with being overweight and inactive, leading to the perception that T2D is only a lifestyle disease. But genetic factors are important as well. Research found that over two-thirds of people who had already been diagnosed with T2D did not have serious concerns about close relatives also developing diabetes. And yet the World Health Organization says that people are three times more likely to develop T2D if they have a close relative with the condition. Although several gene mutations have been associated with type 2 diabetes risk, none of these genes is known to cause diabetes on their own. Diabetes may come into play when you combine genetics with certain lifestyle and environmental factors.
If you have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there is a good chance that you’re not the first person in your family to develop the disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is:
- One in seven, if one of your parents was diagnosed before the age of 50
- One in 13, if one of your parents was diagnosed after the age of 50
- One in two, if both your parents have diabetes
The odds increase dramatically if both your parents have the disease.
It is possible to have diabetes without displaying any of the typical associated risk factors. Some people who are relatively fit have been shocked to discover they have T2D. If you are experiencing excessive thirst, frequent urination, slow-healing wounds, unexplained tiredness, or weight loss, you should seek medical advice. In many countries, people over 45 or who are in one of the high-risk groups are encouraged to see a doctor even if they don’t have symptoms.
A visit to the doctor to check for diabetes is likely to include one of two tests. A fasting plasma glucose test measures your blood sugar when you’ve not eaten for eight hours. It usually involves a sample of your blood being taken first thing in the morning. This measures how well your body normally processes the sugars in your food. An oral glucose tolerance test involves fasting too, but after the first blood sample has been taken, you’ll be given a sugary drink and then have your blood tested again. This looks at your body’s response to a sudden big hit of sugar. The amount of sugar in your blood will indicate whether you are diabetic or what is known as “prediabetic.” If you have prediabetes, in many cases you can make lifestyle changes and avoid developing diabetes altogether. If you are diagnosed as having diabetes or being prediabetic, your family may want to get tested as well.
Diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, is on the rise across the world. The gene that causes your body to stop producing or making efficient use insulin may be triggered by a range of environmental or lifestyle factors, but doctors and scientists are clear that there is a genetic component to T2D. When in doubt, or if you have a family history of diabetes, see your doctor.