Diabetes: The basics
It is not clear what all the exact risk factors are for type 1 diabetes, although it is known that if other people in your family have type 1 diabetes, you are at higher risk for it. Certain ethnic groups (e.g., people of Northern European or Mediterranean descent and others living far from the equator) are at higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes. People are most often diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before they turn 30 years old, usually during childhood or adolescence. At this time, type 1 diabetes is not preventable.

You are at risk for diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) if you:

  • previously had gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby that weighed over 4 kg (9 lbs) at birth
  • are of Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian, or African descent
  • are 35 years of age or older
  • have prediabetes
  • have a relative (parent or sibling) with diabetes
  • are obese
  • have a history of polycystic ovary syndrome
  • have acanthosis nigricans (a skin disorder that causes darkened patches of skin)
  • use corticosteroid medications

You are at risk for type 2 diabetes if you:

  • are 40 years of age or older
  • have a relative (parent or sibling) with diabetes
  • have health complications associated with diabetes (e.g., kidney disease, eye disease, erectile dysfunction)
  • are of Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian, or African descent
  • gave birth to a baby that weighed over 4 kg (9 lbs) at birth
  • had diabetes during pregnancy
  • have been diagnosed with impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose (higher-than-normal blood glucose levels, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes)
  • have high blood pressure
  • have high blood cholesterol or other fats
  • are overweight, especially if you carry most of the weight around your middle
  • have specific medical conditions:
    • polycystic ovary syndrome
    • mental health conditions (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia)
    • acanthosis nigricans
    • sleep apnea
    • HIV infection
  • use medications that increase the risk of diabetes (e.g., glucocorticoids such as prednisone, certain antipsychotic medications, certain medications for HIV)

Although you can't do much about risk factors for type 1 diabetes, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Making lifestyle changes (such as eating healthier, managing your weight, and getting regular exercise) can help delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. If you are at risk, see your physician or primary health care provider.

The earlier you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the sooner you can start treating and managing it to reduce your risk of complications associated with diabetes (e.g., heart disease, kidney disease, eye damage, nerve damage, and erectile dysfunction).