Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a persistent health condition characterized by the body’s inability to effectively use insulin. While certain factors under your control can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it’s not always possible to completely prevent it.
Some individuals either don’t produce sufficient insulin to manage blood sugar levels adequately, while others produce insulin but the body doesn’t utilize it efficiently, a condition known as insulin resistance.
This can result in elevated glucose (sugar) levels in your blood, potentially leading to serious long-term health issues, including damage to vital organs like the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
Type 2 diabetes stands as the most prevalent form of diabetes in the United States (US), with approximately 1 in 10 Americans having diabetes, and of these, 90-95% having type 2 diabetes.
Lifestyle factors like maintaining a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet, engaging in regular exercise, monitoring your blood sugar levels, and adopting healthy behaviors can help lower or delay the risk of developing T2D.
In this article, we delve into the topic of type 2 diabetes, identify those most vulnerable to it, explore the influence of genetics on your risk, and provide guidance on risk reduction strategies, as well as what you should discuss with your healthcare provider.
Who Is Most at Risk
While diabetes can develop at any age, it is most commonly found in adults aged 45 and older. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the body.
In contrast, Type 2 diabetes typically results from insulin resistance, where the body’s cells do not use insulin effectively.
There are various risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, including having family members with diabetes, being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle with little physical activity, having high blood pressure, being diagnosed with prediabetes, or experiencing gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Moreover, individuals assigned male at birth are slightly more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those assigned female at birth.
Some individuals discover they have diabetes because they develop symptoms and are tested by a healthcare provider.
However, others can live for an extended period with minimal or mild symptoms without even realizing they have diabetes.
Shockingly, it is estimated that nearly half of the people with diabetes remain undiagnosed. Unfortunately, diabetes can lead to bodily damage, even if you feel physically well.
Video [What Is Type 2 Diabetes?]
Credit: Diabetes UK
If you have a close family member, such as a sibling, parent, or child, who has diabetes, your chances of being diagnosed with diabetes yourself during your lifetime increase by 5 to 10 times.
However, it’s important to note that not everyone with a family history of diabetes will develop the condition.
You can reduce your overall risk by addressing certain factors within your control, such as managing your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy diet, and staying physically active.
At present, there is no specific genetic test that can predict your predisposition to diabetes. Nevertheless, it is essential to inform your healthcare provider about any hereditary health or medical conditions in your family.
If you experience symptoms of type 2 diabetes (T2D), it’s crucial to promptly consult your healthcare team for guidance and care.
How to Reduce Risk
Some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes are things you can address, which are called modifiable risk factors. Small changes can have a big impact on your health.
Be sure to speak with your provider if you need support or more information about any lifestyle changes, medications, or other recommended treatments.
There are no specific tests or screening tools to know if you will develop diabetes. But, your healthcare provider may recommend regular blood tests which may help diagnose diabetes if you have it.
Typically your random blood glucose will give a snapshot of your blood sugar level at one point in time.
Fasting blood sugar levels are typically measured first thing in the morning; this test shows your blood sugar at a single point in time on a specific day.
Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test that shows the trend of your blood sugar levels over a period of about 3 months.9
These are simple blood tests that can be done in an office or lab. You may experience some local pain while the vein is accessed, and some people have some mild bruising for a few days.
Changing your lifestyle habits may delay or prevent the development of diabetes. More research is needed to understand how all these factors work. Current recommendations include:10
- Managing your weight: A 7% weight loss has been significantly associated with reduced disease risk. Although, you should always discuss making drastic weight changes with your healthcare provider so they can help you decide if you should and, if so, how.
- Monitoring your diet: Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods like vegetables and lean proteins can help you keep your blood sugar level in the healthy range.
- Engage in moderate-intensity exercise: Exercise for at least 150 minutes per week with activities such as brisk walking, biking, dancing, and weight training, among others.
While these habits were first studied in 2002, a more recent meta-analysis looked at multiple studies over several years and found that these same lifestyle changes result in a 47% decrease in the risk of developing T2D.11
Your provider can help and support you in changing your lifestyle. You may benefit from diabetes education, working with a registered dietitian, or joining an exercise program.
If you have limitations affecting your diet or activity levels, speak with your healthcare provider about ways to modify your lifestyle to reduce your diabetes risk.
Future research will address how these habits can be incorporated to adapt to various abilities and circumstances.
There are not a lot of medications that prevent people from developing type 2 diabetes. Metformin is a medication used to delay the onset of T2D.12 However, if you are prediabetic or have T2D, your provider may prescribe medications to help manage your blood sugar levels.
Be sure you understand how to check your blood sugar and take your medications. Abnormal blood sugars can cause serious complications and other health issues.
There are both oral and injectable medications that are used to treat type 2 diabetes.2 Your provider will consider your health situation and prescribe medications if needed.
Some people need to try different medications or different combinations of medications to achieve their goal blood sugar levels.
Be sure to notify your healthcare team of any side effects, problems with blood sugar levels, or concerns about your treatment plan.
Problems With Medications?
If you experience any problems with your medications, be sure to reach out to your provider. Diabetes medications need to be taken as directed because missing doses or taking too much medication can have dangerous effects on your blood sugar levels. Occasionally, allergic reactions or serious side effects can occur.
Discuss With Your Doctor
The most common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Going to the bathroom a lot (frequent urination)
- Being consistently thirsty
- Blurry vision
Talk to your healthcare provider about any symptoms of diabetes you experience or any concerns you have about developing diabetes.
Be sure to speak with your provider about any major lifestyle or medical changes you want to make before you start them.
Medically reviewed by Kelly Wood, MD