Diabetes Risk Factors

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Diabetes mellitus is a type of disease which is caused by impaired glucose regulation. Different types of diabetes each have different associated risk factors. Investigation into these factors is important as it can inform the development of new approaches to reduce diabetes risk.

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There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. These different types affect different people and have different risk factors. Type 1 affects mainly children, whereas type 2 occurrence increases with age. Type 2 is also much more common, with over 90% of diabetes sufferers having type 2 diabetes.

Despite these forms of diabetes having numerous contrasting properties, they are both due to impaired regulation of glucose levels in the blood. Glucose provides energy to all cells in the body, especially to the brain.

Upon detection of high glucose blood levels, insulin is released by the pancreas, allowing these sugars to be stored or used by cells, resulting in lower blood glucose levels. However, this process is inhibited in individuals with diabetes, leading to a build-up of glucose in the blood.

The contrasting types of diabetes also are thought to have contrasting causes. The cause of type 1 is not yet fully understood, but it is thought that the immune cells of the body destroy insulin-producing cells, resulting in a lack of insulin. Conversely, type 2 is caused by resistance to insulin, meaning any insulin produced by the pancreas cannot lower the level of sugars in the blood.

Overall, people with diabetes have increased thirst, frequently need to urinate, lose weight unexplainably and have ketones in their urine.

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes

Despite the cause of type 1 diabetes not being fully understood, several risk factors have been identified. The first of these risk factors is family history. People who have an affected family member show a six-fold increased risk of developing diabetes.

Another class of risk factors is environmental conditions. For example, some cases of type 1 diabetes are due to viral infections.

The third type of risk factor is the presence of autoantibodies. These antibodies target an individual’s own cells, resulting in pancreatic cell damage. Finally, geography is a common factor involved in diabetes occurrence. For example, people in certain countries, such as Finland and Sweden, have a much higher prevalence of type 1 diabetes.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes

There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes, but one of the most important is obesity. As fatty tissue deposits build-up, cellular resistance to insulin increases, resulting in diabetes. People who have a poor diet, do very little exercise and live sedentary lives, therefore, have a very high risk of developing diabetes.

Increasing levels of childhood obesity in the US have led to a significant increase in type 2 diabetes. Despite the fact that this form of diabetes is mainly present in adults due to the high levels of obesity in the middle-aged.

High blood pressure at levels over 140/90, in addition to low cholesterol and high triglyceride blood levels, also often precludes diabetes occurrence.

Family history, as with type 1, is also a big risk factor involved in type 2 diabetes. Additionally, certain populations are naturally more prone to developing diabetes. For example, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and black people are up to 4 times more times at risk of having diabetes.

Finally, other conditions can increase the risk of diabetes. For example, individuals who have previously had a heart attack or a stroke. Additionally, schizophrenic, bipolar and individuals with depression are much more likely to get diabetes, as well as women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Managing your risk of developing diabetes

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented as risk is mainly associated with genetic risk factors and environmental factors that cannot be modified. However, individuals can lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes through weight loss, increased exercise and dietary changes.


Further Reading

Last Updated: May 18, 2021

Hannah Simmons

Written by

Hannah Simmons

Hannah is a medical and life sciences writer with a Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree from Lancaster University, UK. Before becoming a writer, Hannah's research focussed on the discovery of biomarkers for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. She also worked to further elucidate the biological pathways involved in these diseases. Outside of her work, Hannah enjoys swimming, taking her dog for a walk and travelling the world.


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