Am I at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?
More than 4.9 million people in the UK have diabetes, and around 90% have type 2 diabetes. The patient information charity Diabetes UK estimates that a further 13.6 million people are at increased risk of developing the condition. This means that potentially, thousands of people could be living with type 2 diabetes without knowing it.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a serious long-term condition that causes a person’s blood glucose level to keep rising. The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas, and this is responsible for controlling the amount of glucose that is in your blood. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin or your body’s cells do not react to the insulin that your body produces. In contrast, with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce any insulin.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes share common symptoms. These include:
- Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night
- Being very thirsty and not being able to quench your thirst
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Losing weight without trying to or looking thinner than usual
- Cuts and wounds taking longer to heal
- Blurred vision
- Genital itching or thrush
Where type 2 diabetes really differs is in terms of the speed of onset. In cases of type 1 diabetes, the condition can develop very quickly and it’s most common in children and young people. Late diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can even be fatal as a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis can develop.
In contrast, type 2 diabetes develops more slowly, and this means, symptoms can be easier to miss. It can be all too easy to explain away why you feel tired most days or run down as being due to stress or changes in the weather even. If you notice you are experiencing some of the symptoms above, it’s a good idea to get checked out.
What can lead to type 2 diabetes?
There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of getting type 2 diabetes. These include:
- Your weight – being overweight or obese and carrying extra fat around the middle is the single biggest risk factor for developing the condition
- Your age – people are also more at risk if they are white and over 40 or are aged 25 and over and are of African Caribbean, Black African or South Asian (Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi) or Chinese descent
- Family history – your risk also increases if you have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- Your medical history – having a history of high blood pressure is another key factor
- Women’s health – having a female health condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome can also increase your risk
Diabetes UK offers a brilliant Know Your Risk tool that can help you discover your individual level of risk of developing the condition in just a few minutes.
Getting a diagnosis
It’s important to get checked as soon as possible if you are worried you may have the condition. One of the main ways to test for suspected type 2 diabetes and assess someone’s level of risk of going on to develop the condition is via a glycated haemoglobin (more commonly known as HbA1c) test. A HbA1c test provides an indication of the average levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood over the previous two to three months.
This type of test can be carried out at any time of day and doesn’t require any preparation beforehand such as fasting. It’s routinely used in the NHS to diagnose and monitor patients and it’s a reliable risk indicator.
Other forms of type 2 diabetes tests include measuring the level of a protein called fructosamine in your blood. This is a protein that attaches to glucose in your bloodstream. It’s carried out as a fingertip blood sample test, and it can be used to help people monitor and control their blood sugar levels.
Diet and type 2 diabetes
More than half of all cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed simply by making healthier choices. This includes moving more and getting physically active each day. Even if this just amounts to a short brisk walk around the block, it all makes a difference. Reducing your alcohol consumption and following stop smoking advice is also beneficial both to reduce your type 2 diabetes risk and to improve your general health.
Your diet plays a crucial prevention and treatment role too. Making changes to what you eat can make an enormous difference. Experts advise following a Mediterranean-style diet, where you fill up on fruit, vegetables, wholegrain (slow-release) cereals and carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholewheat pasta. Try using olive oil to add extra goodness to side salads rather than creamy sauces and use herbs and spices to flavour dishes rather than adding extra salt to your plate.