My mom has type 2 diabetes, so does that mean I'll get it?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has had type 2 diabetes for years, and I'm worried that I may get the disease too. What are my chances of getting it, should I get tested, and is there anything I can do to prevent it?

Expert Answer

Theresa Garnero is clinical nurse manager of Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Family history is a risk factor for diabetes. If one of your parents has type 2 diabetes, you're at slightly increased risk of developing the disease. If both your parents have the disease, your risk is much greater.

You're also at greater risk for the disorder if you're over 45, overweight, inactive, or you smoke or have hypertension. And if you belong to any of the ethnic groups at greater risk of getting the condition, including African Americans, Hispanic/Latin Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, you're two to three times more likely to develop the disorder than if you're of Caucasian descent.

The only way you'll know for certain whether your blood sugar sits in the recommended range is by getting tested. So go ahead and find out how your numbers look. It may be a wake-up call -- or buy you some peace of mind.

Carrying excess weight around your waist rather than your hips also increases your risk of diabetes, so check your body mass index and waist size, too, to find out if your body shape is another risk factor.

Remember, too, that even though your mom has this condition, there's a lot you can do to avoid it. Start by making smart choices on the food front. That means lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, and go easy on the fats and sweet treats. Get active, if you're not already. Even walking as little as 30 minutes a day can lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. Physical activity increases your body's ability to store and use glucose. It also helps keep your heart and blood vessels healthy and allows you to maintain a healthy weight -- or helps you lose some pounds if you need to.

If you're overweight, eating well and exercising should help you shed those unwanted pounds, and even modest weight loss -- just five or ten pounds -- can dramatically decrease your odds of succumbing to this lifelong disease, because extra weight increases the body's resistance to using insulin.