Type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disorder, like type 1 diabetes. Rather, there are two reasons why type 2 diabetes occurs:
- The body still makes insulin, but can’t use it properly (this is called insulin resistance)
- Insulin production in the pancreas decreases (this is called insulin deficiency).
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes
The four main risk factors for type 2 diabetes are:
- Being 40 years of age or older
- Having a close family member with diabetes (for example, your mother, father, brother or sister)
- Being of Aboriginal, African, Asian, Hispanic or South Asian descent
- Being overweight, and carrying this excess weight around your tummy
Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
- Having a history of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or having given birth to a baby that is more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms). Read more about gestational diabetes here.
- Being diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes complications like eye, kidney or nerve problems or heart disease
- Physical inactivity
- Having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
- Having been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (a condition that occurs in women whose reproductive hormones are out of balance, causing cysts to develop on the ovaries)
- Having been diagnosed with Acanthosis nigricans, which are darkened patches of skin
- Having been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, such as schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder
Getting tested for diabetes
If you have any of risk factors noted above, you should be tested for diabetes. You may be given one of four different tests to check your blood glucose levels.
- Fasting blood glucose test
- Casual blood glucose test
- Oral glucose tolerance test
- A1C test
You can check your risk right now by completing the Canadian Diabetes Risk (CANRISK) Questionnaire.
Having risk factors for diabetes does not mean that you will inevitably end up with the condition, but it does indicate that your chances of getting the disease are greater than those of the general population.
Steps you can take to reduce your risk
The good news is that you can take steps to manage your blood glucose to help delay or prevent the onset of diabetes. While some risk factors cannot be changed (for example, your age or ethnicity), other risk factors such as your weight or activity level can be altered.
Tips to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes include:
- Reach a healthy weight. Excess weight is directly linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke. Losing even 5-10% of your body weight can help to prevent developing diabetes. Read more about sustainable weight loss here.
- Choose healthy foods that you enjoy. Knowing what to eat and how much to eat is a great start. You can speak with a dietitian who can help you set up a healthy eating meal plan. Read more about diabetes dietitians here.
- Keep active! Find something that you love to do, and commit to doing it often! It is recommended that you engage in physical activity for 30 minutes each day, five times a week. If you have never done exercise, start slow, for example, 10 minutes per day, and work up to 30 minutes.
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes
- Family history
- Illness or infection
Type 1 diabetes is known as an autoimmune disorder. It happens when the body’s immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas can no longer produce insulin.
It is not known at this time what causes type 1 diabetes. However, if you have a close family member (for example, your mother, father, brother or sister) with type 1 diabetes, this slightly increases your risk. Some diseases of the pancreas and certain rare infections can inhibit the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin and can lead to type 1 diabetes.