Diabetes is a serious, life-long disease. It can lead to problems such as heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney disease, and nerve damage. Nearly 7 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes and don’t know it. Many people don’t find out they have diabetes until they are faced with problems such as blurry vision or heart trouble. Certain factors can increase your risk for diabetes, and it’s important to know what they are.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. In an autoimmune reaction, antibodies, or immune cells, attach to the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake, signaling the body to attack them.
At present, scientists do not know exactly what causes the body's immune system to attack the cells, but many believe that both genetic factors and environmental factors, such as viruses, are involved. Studies are now underway to identify these factors and prevent type 1 diabetes in people at risk.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes -- the most common form -- is linked closely to overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels. About 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Being overweight can keep your body from using insulin properly.
Being over 45 years of age and overweight or obese raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include:
- having a first-degree relative -- a parent, brother, or sister -- with diabetes
- being African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American or Pacific Islander, or Hispanic American/Latino.
- having gestational diabetes, or giving birth to at least one baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- having blood pressure of 140/90 or higher, or having been told that you have high blood pressure.
- having abnormal cholesterol levels -- an HDL cholesterol level of 35 or lower, or a triglyceride level of 250 or higher
- being inactive or exercising fewer than three times a week.
- having polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS (women only)
- having impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or impaired fasting glucose (IFG)
- history of cardiovascular disease.
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Pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes
Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they usually have pre-diabetes -- a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.
People with pre-diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes within 10 years and also are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Pre-diabetes is increasingly common in the U.S. adult population, according to 2011 estimates. In 2010, about 78 million people in the U.S. had pre-diabetes.
Some women develop diabetes during the late stages of pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes. Although this form of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who has had it has a lifelong risk for developing diabetes, mostly type 2.