Type 2 diabetes: are you at risk?

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The statistics are scary. Almost 3 million people in the UK have already been diagnosed with diabetes, another 850,000 people have the disease but don’t know it yet – and 7 million of us have pre-diabetes and worryingly raised glucose levels. So it’s highly likely that someone you know, or even you, could be affected.

‘The early symptoms can be so mild that you can have diabetes for 10 years before you realise you need treatment,’ says Pav Kalsi, clinical advisor to Diabetes UK. That’s dangerous because high blood sugar can seriously damage your kidneys, heart, sight and nerves. But the good news is that for most people, it’s avoidable. Nine out of 10 people with diabetes have Type 2, which can creep up on you once you pass 40 – often triggered by an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. Unlike Type 1, which tends to start early in life, there are few dramatic symptoms such as sudden weight loss or a raging thirst. But though they’re subtle, the warning signs are there, and spotting them before the disease develops means you can hit reverse before it’s too late.

The US Diabetes Prevention Program has found that losing just 7% of your body weight and exercising for half an hour five days a week reduces the risk of developing diabetes by a huge 58%. Go to qdscore.org, originally published in the British Medical Journal, for a detailed risk analysis. If your risk is high, or you answer yes to most of these questions, make an appointment to see your GP, who can order a blood test. Because, with cases increasing by 25% every five years, diabetes is a possibility no one should ignore.
Tip
Losing just a bit of weight and some daily exercise can cut your risk of diabetes in half.

Did you have one of the biggest babies on the ward?

Having a baby heavier than 4kg (8.8lb) can be a sign of gestational diabetes. It usually vanishes after giving birth, but you should be monitored as it raises the risk of having diabetes later.

Do you wake up needing to have a pee?

If you regularly go to the bathroom at night, raised blood sugar could be the cause. ‘The body repairs itself during sleep, so this is when it’s most likely to rid itself of excess glucose,’ says Pav Kalsi. As a result, you’re likely to feel thirsty too, so drinking pints of water at night is an additional sign.

Do you find it difficult to focus, even with glasses?

The answer may not be new specs if high blood sugar is drying out your eyes and blurring your vision. But by all means book a sight test, because optometrists are trained to spot signs of diabetes as well as assess your vision. Read: the A-Z of eye health

Do you eat on the run?

Wolfing down food can double the likelihood of developing diabetes, according to recent research. Although it’s not known if the cause is eating too much as well as too fast, it’s known that speed-eating can double your chances of being overweight. So slow down and enjoy a better meal, shape and future health.

Do you feel tired all day?

GPs may test for low thyroid if you crawl into the surgery complaining of fatigue, but are less likely to suspect diabetes – even though it’s a common symptom, says Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow. If it’s one of several indicators you have that point to Type 2, ask your doctor for a blood test. Read: do you have an underactive thyroid?

Do you have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep?

Sleeping for fewer than five hours a night can increase the risk of diabetes, and so can shift work, a study of almost 70,000 US nurses found. It’s thought that disrupted sleep may cause metabolic changes similar to those triggered by being overweight or obese. Read: our guide to getting a good night's sleep

Do you regularly get pins and needles?

Persistent tingling is an early sign of peripheral nerve damage, which affects the feet. If diabetes is diagnosed, it’s wise to check them every day and avoid going barefoot to prevent injury.

Is constant thrush a problem?

Along with frequent urinary infections, it can be caused by excess glucose in the urine. Slow-to-heal wounds are another symptom: both indicate the immune system is under siege. Read more on thrush

Are you a smoker?

Smoking increases the risk of diabetes by 44%, according to a study by the University of Lausanne, although that risk can be halved if you stop. What’s more, says Professor Sattar, smoking also stimulates the body to store fat around the belly, which is a risk factor in its own right. Read: 10 ways to stop smoking

Is there any diabetes in the family?

Having a close relative – parent, sibling or child – with diabetes can’t be changed, but your lifestyle can. Controlling your weight and taking exercise are especially important if you’re black or Asian, as you’re more susceptible to diabetes, and it’s essential for Pakistani women, who are at a five times greater risk.

Are you an apple shape?

This can be a sign that the body is struggling to process glucose, particularly in women, says Professor Sattar. Women should aim for a waist under 80cm/31½in. If it’s years since the tape stopped there, at least keep it below 88cm/35in – the point at which the risk increases dramatically. The correct place to measure your waist is halfway between your hip bone and bottom rib.

Is your cholesterol count more than five?

Insulin metabolises fats as well as sugar, so when production falters, your cholesterol levels, especially those of harmful LDL cholesterol, will rise. But don’t be surprised if your GP doesn’t rush to prescribe statins, because some versions have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, especially when taken in high doses. As statins are the best drugs for lowering cholesterol, it’s a balancing act. People with diabetes are also more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, so it’s important to discuss treatment with your doctor. Read: understanding cholesterol

Can you see dark patches in the folds of your skin?

Called acanthosis nigricans, these large areas of discolouration in the neck, the groin, elbows and knees, can be an early sign of diabetes. Although it looks superficial, it can’t be removed by washing and won’t respond to skin treatments, so it’s not one for self-help. It’s often genetic but because it can be triggered by a number of diseases, it’s important to see your doctor for advice about treatment.

Are your hormones all over the place?

Women with polycystic ovaries (PCOS) are more vulnerable to diabetes, and so, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh, are men with low testosterone. Both conditions are associated with weight gain, which is known to interfere with insulin production. Read more on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Read: blame it on your hormones

Checked for accuracy by Good Housekeepıng Health Watch.

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