Almost 21 million Americans have diabetes—yet more than 6 million don’t even realize they have the disease. That’s because some of the symptoms may not seem threatening: excessive thirst, extreme hunger, increased fatigue, even irritability. But left untreated, diabetes can cause heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, circulatory problems that lead to leg and foot amputations, complications during pregnancy and even deaths related to flu and pneumonia.
Are you at risk for diabetes? Answer yes or no to the following questions to find out:
- Do you get little or no physical activity?
- Are you overweight?
- Have you ever had gestational diabetes or had a baby weighing more than 9 pounds at birth?
- Do you have a close family member (parent or sibling) with diabetes?
- Are you 45 years or older?
- Are you African American, Hispanic American, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander?
If you answered yes to two or more questions, you may be at risk. Here’s why:
- Inactivity is the most important risk factor for type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes. A sedentary lifestyle may be to blame in half of all cases of diabetes.
- Some studies have shown that excess weight may increase your risk of developing diabetes more than 10 times. Since obesity may contribute to insulin resistance, it’s important to eat healthy and follow a low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber diet.
- A woman who has had gestational diabetes, a usually temporary form of insulin intolerance in pregnant women, has an up to 63 percent risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you were never screened for gestational diabetes but gave birth to a large baby, you may have had gestational diabetes without knowing it, since women with the condition tend to have babies weighing more than 9 pounds.
- A family history of diabetes increases your chances of developing the condition. While you can’t control this risk factor, you can lower your odds of developing diabetes by taking charge of the risk factors that you can control and getting regular screenings.
- Everyone age 45 years or older is at risk for type 2 diabetes. In fact, one in five Americans over age 65 has diabetes. While this is another risk factor you can’t control, following a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk.
- While race and ethnicity may not be a risk factor in and of itself, diabetes tends to be associated with persons in these categories more often, so you need to take special precautions to control more important risk factors such as overweight and inactivity.