Are You at Risk for Diabetes?

Empower yourself: know your diabetes risk factors and what to do about them.
As of January 2010, roughly 90 to 95 percent of the nearly 19 million Americans with diabetes have type 2 — the kind linked with excess body weight — according to the Centers for Disease Control.

People with type 2 diabetes have abnormally high levels of glucose, or blood sugar, either because their pancreas can't make enough insulin, a hormone meant to control your blood glucose levels, or their bodies can't properly use it. Untreated, diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness or even death.

The good news: Type 2 diabetes may be delayed, and even prevented, by making a few lifestyle changes. Don’t procrastinate; the earlier you start making changes, the better off you are.

To find out if you're at risk for type 2 diabetes, see how many of the following factors apply.

  1. You have a close family member (sibling or parent) with the disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, the tendency to get type 2 diabetes can be genetic.

  2. You're overweight. Family medical history aside, it usually takes another factor, such as obesity, to bring on type 2 diabetes. Excess weight contributes to a higher demand for insulin. Early on, your pancreas may pump out extra insulin and keep up with the increased blood sugar demands. But over time, it fizzles out. When that happens, blood sugar builds up in the blood, which can damage the eyes, nervous system, kidneys and heart.

    Staying at a healthy body weight can help prevent stressing your pancreas. In fact, shedding just 10 percent of your weight can improve or reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, and may prevent some of the complications if you've been diagnosed with the condition.

  3. You don't exercise regularly. Besides keeping your weight in check, physical activity helps reduce your risk of diabetes. Exercise helps you lose weight and maintain a weight loss, which are very important in lowering your risk.

  4. Your diet is whole-grain-challenged. A diet rich in whole grains (think three or more daily servings of bran cereal, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal or brown or wild rice) can help moderate blood glucose levels, says Gerald Bernstein, MD, a former president of the American Diabetes Association and an endocrinologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. With plenty of whole grains on board, you won't get the spikes in blood sugar that can stress your pancreas, Bernstein says.

If one or more of the statements apply to you, you may be at risk for type 2 diabetes and should talk to your doctor about getting tested. A fasting blood glucose test, a simple blood test that's the preferred diabetes diagnostic test, gauges the amount of glucose in your blood — 126 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter) or more indicates impaired glucose tolerance, with a high risk for developing diabetes. Your doctor may also advise you to have a glucose tolerance test, which involves drinking a glucose solution and having blood drawn at specified intervals.

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