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Risk Factors for Diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. All three types of diabetes share the same basic characteristic -- the body's inability either to make or to use insulin. Your body needs insulin, a hormone, to be able to use glucose, which comes from the food you eat, for energy. Without enough insulin, glucose stays in the blood, creating high levels of blood sugar. Over time, this buildup causes damage to your kidneys, heart, nerves, eyes, and other organs.

One out of every three people with diabetes is unaware they have this chronic condition. According to the American Diabetes Association, that amounts to about 7 million Americans. Might you be one of them? Read on to see what your risk for diabetes really is.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including screening tests for type 2 diabetes, at no cost to you. Learn more.

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Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes

With type 1 diabetes, which starts in childhood, the pancreas stops producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone your body needs to be able to use the energy -- glucose -- found in food. The primary risk factor for type 1 diabetes is a family history of this lifelong, chronic disease.

  • Genetics and family history. Having family members with diabetes is a major risk factor. The American Diabetes Association recommends that anyone with a first-degree relative with type 1 diabetes -- a mother, father, sister, or brother -- should get screened for diabetes. A simple blood test can diagnose type 1 diabetes.
  • Diseases of the pancreas. Injury or diseases of the pancreas can inhibit its ability to produce insulin and lead to type 1 diabetes.
  • Infection or illness. A range of relatively rare infections and illnesses can damage the pancreas and cause type 1 diabetes.

 

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can't use the insulin that's produced, a condition called insulin resistance. Though it typically starts in adulthood, type 2 diabetes can begin anytime in life. Because of the current epidemic of obesity among U.S. children, type 2 diabetes is increasingly found in teenagers.

Here are the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Obesity or being overweight. Diabetes has long been linked to obesity and being overweight. Research at the Harvard School of Public Health showed that the single best predictor of type 2 diabetes is being obese or overweight.

Obesity and diabetes are both epidemic in the U.S. The most-used measure for obesity is BMI, which stands for body mass index. BMI is a ratio, and can be determined using standard tables of height and weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher defines obesity. Here are some examples of how BMI is used:

  • A woman who's 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds has a BMI of 20.
  • A woman who's 5 feet 5 inches and weighs 180 pounds has a BMI of 30. She would be diagnosed as "obese."
  • A woman who's 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds has a BMI of 40. She would be diagnosed with "extreme obesity" or as having "clinically severe obesity."

WebMD Medical Reference

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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