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Diabetes Risk Factors

Obesity and high blood pressure are two risk factors associated with diabetes.

Obesity or being overweight is a common risk factor of diabetes. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Obesity or being overweight is a common risk factor of diabetes.

Diabetes Risk Factors

Understanding diabetes risk factors first requires understanding diabetes. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body's cells do not respond correctly to the insulin that is produced. Insulin is the hormone that helps the body's cells utilize glucose, a sugar in the bloodstream, which is the body's main source of energy. In diabetes, the glucose cannot get into the cells and builds up in the bloodstream. Excess glucose in the blood can cause many health problems, including heart disease and damage to the kidneys and eyes.

There are three types of diabetes -- type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. The cause of type 1 diabetes, which accounts for 5 to 10 percent of diabetes cases, is still unclear, though a genetic factor may play a part. As a result, the main focus when discussing risk factors is on type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Genetic and Health-Related Diabetes Risk Factors

Some factors that put a person at a higher risk for diabetes, such as age and ethnicity, are not under the person's control. After age of 45, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases significantly. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children, adolescents and young adults is rising dramatically. Genetic factors can also play a role. A family history of diabetes, as well as belonging to certain ethnic groups, including African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian, can increase a person's risk of developing diabetes. Addition risk factors include:

  • Previous problems with glucose tolerance
  • Polycystic ovary disease in women

In the case of gestational diabetes, women over the age of 25 have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Having had gestational diabetes or delivering a baby over nine pounds also increases a woman's chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Diabetes Risk Factors and Lifestyle

Some diabetes risk factors are within a person's control. Health and lifestyle habits can dramatically influence the chances of developing diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, rising rates of obesity and failure to exercise regularly are leading to national increases in the rate of type 2 diabetes. The most significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes is being overweight. Fat cells are resistant to insulin and the more fat cells a body has the harder the body needs to work to get glucose into the cells.

Regular exercise helps patients lose weight and helps the body use insulin. Studies have shown that just 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week, can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additional diabetes risk factors that go hand-in-hand with obesity and lack of exercise are:

  • Blood pressure over 140/90 mm Hg (millimeters of Mercury)
  • Triglycerides over 250 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter)
  • HDL (good) cholesterol under 35 mg/dL

Anyone with these risk factors should work with a physician to bring the levels to normal ranges and watch for warning signs of diabetes.

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