Diabetes is a common, lifelong condition in which the blood sugar levels in your body are too high. Having high blood sugar levels can cause a myriad of effects to the rest of your body. There are two different types of the condition; this article will focus on Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form.
Government statistics suggest that approximately 3.8 million people are living with diabetes in the UK and that around 90% of these people have Type 2, which is a mostly preventable form of diabetes.
You may have seen our guide to the 20 Most Common Medical Conditions Affecting Older People. This article will go into detail about the causes of Type 2 diabetes. For more information on this condition as a whole, please take a look at our in-depth guide which is a general overview of both type 1 and type 2.
Many things can lead to a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes; however, as described by the NHS, it is caused as a result of the hormone insulin, which is released by the pancreas in response to the glucose in your body, not working correctly or your body no longer producing enough insulin. As the insulin is unable to do its job correctly, blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) levels will rise above normal levels.
In the short term, this means that all of the cells in your body are unable to produce enough energy from the glucose which will trigger a range of symptoms including extreme thirst, increased urination and feeling very tired. As your blood sugar levels will be very high, this can, over a more extended period, cause severe damage to other organs such as your heart, eyes, and feet.
Effects of Obesity on Developing Type 2 Diabetes
While we understand medically what causes diabetes, it is not clear in individual cases what the direct cause is of developing Type 2 diabetes. However, there is thought to be a strong link between being overweight and developing the condition. Obesity is believed to account for 80-85% of the overall risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Being overweight can have many negative implications on our health including the development of various health conditions and medical complications, this includes diabetes.
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent of these related conditions and apart from family history, being overweight is one of the most important risk factors. Type 2 diabetes has shown strong links to central obesity which is when the excess weight is carried predominantly around the middle of the body. Although it may be impossible to ascertain the exact cause of your diabetes, ensuring that you have a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) is often crucial, not only to reduce the risk of developing it in the first place but also as a way to help manage the condition if you are diagnosed.
The other strong risk factor for Type 2 diabetes is your genetics. Although this is something we have no control over, it is essential to be aware that you are in a group at higher risk of developing diabetes due to your genetics so you can work to prevent it. This is especially important when you find out that, as stated by Diabetes UK, six in 10 people have no symptoms when they are diagnosed.
According to Diabetes UK, if you have relatives with Type 2 diabetes, you are two to six times more likely to develop the condition than someone without any family history. A complex combination of genetics and lifestyle choices result in the development of diabetes but the risk of developing Type 2 through family genes is thought to be much higher than for Type 1.
Therefore, it is vital to ensure you do all that you can to try and prevent the condition. These steps would mainly include living a healthy, active lifestyle with a healthy balanced diet. If you have a diagnosis of diabetes it is important to discuss it with your GP, you can ask them about accessing free educational courses for type 2 diabetes.
Another genetic factor for Type 2 diabetes is your ethnicity. People of African and African-Caribbean descent developing Type 2 diabetes is up to three times more common and for those of South Asian origin it is more than six times more common! Statistics also show that people of this ethnicity often develop Type 2 diabetes at a significantly earlier age than those in the white population.
Other Risk Factors
There are many other risk factors that are thought to contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes, some of which are lifestyle choices. These risk factors include:
- Sedentary Lifestyle – A lack of sufficient exercise is a risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes. Increased activity is a crucial component of good general health, and low physical activity levels also contribute to increased weight, which we know has a significant impact. Not sure where to start with getting more active? Take a look at our seven sport and fitness activities for older people.
- Unhealthy Diet – Another major contributor to diabetes is considered to be consuming an unhealthy diet, particularly one that is high in processed foods and unhealthy fats. This is also a contributor to being overweight, so it is very important to control.
- Gestational Diabetes – If you have had a diagnosis of gestational diabetes in past pregnancies your risk of developing Type 2 increases by around 7%.
- Age – The function of our cells is known to decline as we get older which can cause the potential to develop Type 2 diabetes as our cells play an important role in managing blood sugar. Unlike Type 1, Type 2 is more common in older people.
As you can see from all the information we have covered here, while genetics do play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes, the majority of the risk factors are down to lifestyle choices. In Type 1 diabetes this is not the case. Not only this, but they have a key role in part of the treatment regime once you are diagnosed with Type 2.
If you are at risk, a healthy lifestyle should be your focus. Meaning that, while Type 2 diabetes can be a serious condition, there are actions that can be made to reduce your risk of developing it and in some cases, you may even be able to completely control it by making these significant changes under the supervision of your doctor.
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