Like many chronic illnesses, Type 2 diabetes doesn’t happen overnight.
Approximately 1 million older women in the United States have diabetes and don’t know it. The stages leading up to diabetes are often asymptomatic, and many women may not question their risk factors because they feel OK.
For example, did you know age alone can put you at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes? According to the American Diabetes Association, if you’re a woman age 45 or older, you already have one risk factor for diabetes. If you don’t exercise regularly, you have an even greater risk of developing diabetes.
Know Your Diabetes
The best way to understand your risk factors for diabetes is to understand the disease in all of its various stages, even before symptoms appear:
Type 2 diabetes—In its “final” form, Type 2 diabetes is a dysfunction in the body’s ability to regulate or produce insulin. Insulin is a substance created in the pancreas that helps convert dietary sugars in the bloodstream (blood glucose) into energy for the body. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, the risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes are largely controllable through lifestyle choices.
Prediabetes—If your fasting blood glucose levels are consistently between 100 and 125 mg/dL, you have prediabetes. Think of prediabetes as the on-ramp to diabetes. You’re heading toward the disease, but you still have the ability to reverse the process and avoid a lifelong illness.
Metabolic syndrome—While diabetes is a disease and prediabetes is a condition, metabolic syndrome is best described as a “clustering” of risk factors. People who are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following five risk factors for diabetes:
- · Waist measurement of at least 35 inches for women
- · Triglyceride level of at least 150 mg/dL
- · HDL (“good”) cholesterol level below 50 mg/dL for women
- · Blood pressure level of at least 130/85
- · Fasting blood glucose level of at least 100 mg/dL
Gestational diabetes—You may have been diagnosed with a temporary form of diabetes when you were pregnant. This is known as gestational diabetes. Having a history of gestational diabetes increases your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later on.
Keeping a Low Profile
Understanding your risk profile can help you understand what steps to take to lower your profile. For instance, if you’ve had gestational diabetes and have a family history of diabetes, you may have a higher risk profile than other women. Your primary care provider can perform simple screenings to determine if you have early insulin resistance. Once you know your risk profile, you can take steps to prevent further progression by losing weight, increasing physical activity, and incorporating more fresh fruits, veg