No one in my family has ever had diabetes. Does that mean I’m not at risk for developing it?
Although there is a genetic component to diabetes, it’s not 100 percent: Many people develop type 2 diabetes without having a family history of the disease. Conversely, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll develop the disease even if you have close family members who have it, though your risk is higher.
A warning: You may think no one in your family has ever had diabetes, but many cases go undiagnosed. So you may be operating under a false sense of security.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 95 percent of all diabetes cases. It’s marked by high blood glucose levels primarily caused by the body’s inability to use its insulin efficiently. In contrast, type 1 diabetes is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin is what gets glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells where it can do its work.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), if one of your parents has type 2 diabetes, your risk of getting diabetes is 1 in 7 if your parent was diagnosed before age 50, and 1 in 13 if your parent was diagnosed after age 50. If both parents have type 2 diabetes, your risk is about 1 in 2.
Overall, it's estimated that diabetes (both types) affects 1 in 12 Americans, though only about 1 in 17 Americans have been diagnosed.
A better way to estimate your chance of developing type 2 diabetes is to take a close look at your risk factors. The ADA offers an online tool to evaluate your risk — just go to http://www.diabetes.org and search for “risk test.” Risk factors include age, being overweight or obese, not exercising regularly, and having high blood pressure.
Studies also show that people with untreated sleep-related problems, such as sleep apnea, also have a greater risk of developing the disease.
Even small changes can lower your risk. Losing just 10 to 15 pounds and starting an exercise program of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can greatly reduce the chance of developing diabetes.
Early detection and treatment can reduce the chance of developing complications, including serious problems with your eyes, feet, kidneys and heart. Be sure to see a doctor quickly if you experience symptoms such as:
- Frequent urination.
- Unusual thirst.
- Extreme hunger.
- Unusual weight loss.
- Extreme fatigue and irritability.
- Frequent infections.
- Blurred vision.
- Cuts or bruises that heal slowly.
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.
- Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: November is American Diabetes Month.
This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, community nutrition education specialist for Ohio State University Extension and assistant professor of human nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.