Diabetes Symptoms: Do You Have Risk Factors?

What factors put me at increased risk of developing signs of diabetes? Scientists have identified a number of risk factors for the development of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes as well as gestational diabetes.

Obesity or increased weight is one of the strongest risk factors for development of type 2 diabetes.

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Scientists have identified a number of risk factors for the development of diabetes. While some of these, such as family history, are the same for all three types of diabetes, there are risk factors unique to each type. Being aware of the risk factors that apply to you can aid both in disease screening and prevention, and help you avoid diabetes symptoms.

Type 1

  • Family history: Having a sibling or parent with type 1 diabetes increases your risk of developing the disease.
  • Environmental triggers: While all environmental factors that influence the development of type 1 diabetes and produce diabetes symptoms are not known, scientists have identified several potential triggers. Type I diabetes develops more often during the winter and in places with colder climates, suggesting that cold weather might be a trigger. Additionally, evidence suggests that certain viral infections might also influence the development of type 1 diabetes in some people. In particular, an association between enteroviral infections and type 1 diabetes development has been observed. Studies have demonstrated that in some individuals, infection with a specific group of viruses called enteroviruses has some affect both on the initiation of islet cell autoimmunity (the immune system attacking the groups of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin) and the progression to full-blown type 1 diabetes. More research, however, is needed to determine how enteroviruses cause this effect and why it occurs in some individuals and not others.
  • Diabetic diet: While the scientific community has not reached a consensus on the link between diet and type 1 diabetes, some researchers have noted an association between type 1 diabetes symptoms and development and early exposure to cow’s milk in some children. Other research has shown an association between low levels of vitamin D and increased risk of type 1 diabetes.
  • Autoantibodies: Doctors can test for the presence of certain immune cells that are associated with an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. While testing positive for these autoantibodies does not guarantee the development of type 1 diabetes, it is generally agreed that the higher the number of autoantibodies an individual has, the greater their risk of developing type 1 diabetes. This is true both in the general population and in those with a family history of type 1 diabetes.

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Type 2

  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes increases your risk of developing the disease.
  • Obesity: Obesity or increased weight is one of the strongest risk factors for development of type 2 diabetes. Having higher quantities of fatty tissue increases the resistance of the body’s cells to insulin.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Exercise helps the body use glucose and increases cells’ sensitivity to insulin. Additionally, exercise helps control weight. Lack of exercise or physical activity therefore increases your risk of weight gain, higher glucose levels, and insulin resistance.
  • Ethnic background: Type 2 diabetes is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaskan natives, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders. The reasons for this increased risk are not yet understood.
  • Age: The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases as you age, particularly after the age of 45. This may be due to the tendency to have a less active lifestyle as you age and the weight gain that subsequently occurs.
  • Diet: Research has suggested that a diet high in saturated fats might be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Look for foods that lower blood sugar, such as cinnamon, garlic, and blueberries.
  • Lipid levels: Having low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) levels (usually below 35 mg/dl) and/or high triglyceride levels (usually above 250 mg/dl) has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes: A history of having had gestational diabetes during a pregnancy or having had a baby weighing over nine pounds increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Some statistics suggest that women who have had gestational diabetes have a 60 percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes within the following 10 to 20 years.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: Among signs of diabetes in women, this syndrome is characterized by, among other traits, abnormal menstrual cycles, increased facial hair, acne, and weight gain. It is a well-known risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure/hypertension: A blood pressure over 140/90 mm Hg is a risk factor for developing diabetes symptoms and type 2 diabetes.
  • Smoking: Smokers are 30-40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-smokers.

Gestational Diabetes

  • Weight: Obesity or being overweight increases the risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • Age: The chances of developing gestational diabetes increase with increasing age.
  • Family history: Having a sibling or parent with type 2 diabetes increases your risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Personal history: A history of prediabetes, gestational diabetes with a past pregnancy, or a prior pregnancy resulting in a baby weighing over nine pounds are all associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Ethnic background: African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian-American women have a higher risk of gestational diabetes.

Originally published in April 2016 and updated.

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