Even if you’re in great health, knowledge is power. Understanding the common risk factors for diabetes can protect you and your family.
In the UK a predicted 5.5 million people will have diabetes by 20301. In this article, we’ll run through the basics on diabetes, symptoms, and screening suggestions to bring you better peace of mind.
What is diabetes?
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes occur when the body cannot make enough insulin or doesn’t respond to it properly. Insulin has a vital role in moving sugar (glucose) from your blood into your cells, so you can use it for energy.
When insulin doesn’t work properly, sugar levels rise in your blood. High blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels and cause serious health problems.
- Type 1 diabetes2: a familial disorder most commonly diagnosed in children
- Type 2 diabetes3: both gene- and lifestyle-related and can develop over time
Risk factors for diabetes
So, who is in danger of developing diabetes?
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes:
Because type 1 diabetes is familial, having a family member with type 1 significantly raises the risk for a child4. Familial means type 1 tends to show up more within a family unit. Certain environmental factors can also increase the risk.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes
Genes and lifestyle factors both contribute to type 2 diabetes risk5. The list includes:
- Being age 45 or up
- A family history of diabetes
- African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander heritage
Other health conditions put you at higher risk of developing diabetes:
- Low “good” cholesterol or high “bad” cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
- History of heart disease or stroke
The key risk factors linked with lifestyle are:
- Being overweight or obese
- Low physical activity levels
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
It’s important for everyone — even healthy people — to recognise the symptoms of diabetes. Spotting these early and getting early treatment reduces the risk of future problems.
The three most common early symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes are:
- Increased thirst. This can be caused by high blood sugar levels
- Peeing more often, both during the day and at night
- Increased hunger
Later, more advanced symptoms can include6:
- More tiredness and general fatigue
- Unexpected weight loss
- Itchy genitals or thrush
- Wounds and cuts that take longer to heal
- Blurry eyesight
Next steps: Easy diabetes screening with Babylon
- Know your risk. Work out which of the above risk factors apply to you and whether you can change anything. Try the Diabetes UK Know Your Risk tool.
- Get tested. The NHS advises a health check for everyone at age 40, which includes screening for type 2 diabetes7. For the U.S. the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends diabetes screening for everyone at age 45, or under 45 if you’re overweight and have other risk factors. Book an appointment with a Babylon healthcare provider to talk about testing any time.
- Look out for symptoms. It’s especially important to get tested if you notice any of the symptoms of diabetes.
If you have concerns it’s best to get in touch. Babylon can connect you to a doctor who can explain how to reduce the risk of diabetes for you and your family. We provide the proper support for screening, diagnosis, and treatment.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and you’re worried, see our article on How to handle the anxiety of diabetes.
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Check out the risk assessment tool at https://riskscore.diabetes.org.uk/start.
- Diabetes Statistics. Diabetes UK. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/position-statements-reports/statistics, accessed 8 February 2022
- Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes UK. www.diabetes.org.uk/type-1-diabetes, accessed 8 February 2022
- Type 2 diabetes. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/, published 18 August 2020
- Hackett E & Crasto W. The Pharmaceutical Journal. 2014:293(7835), https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/ld/identifying-patients-at-risk-of-diabetes
- Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Disease. www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/risk-factors-type-2-diabetes, updated December 2016
- What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes? Diabetes UK. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/diabetes-symptoms, accessed 8 February 2022
- Diabetes Tests. Diabetes.co.uk. www.diabetes.co.uk/Diabetes-screening-test.html, updated 7 January 2022