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Risk Factors

Risk factors for diabetes depend on the type of diabetes.

Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes

Although the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown, there is evidence that genetics and family history may play a role. The risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is increased in people who have a parent or sibling who has Type 1 diabetes. Studies have also looked into whether other factors, such as exposure to a virus might also play a role in the development of Type 1 diabetes.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes

Diabetes researchers don't yet fully understand why some people develop prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes while others do not. However, there is widespread agreement that there are certain factors that increase a person’s risk for developing prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Some of these risk factors are controllable, and some are not. There are also some other health conditions that tend to be closely associated with diabetes. People with these conditions are at a higher risk for developing diabetes—some of those conditions include:

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes that may be Controllable

  • Weight—obese people (those who weigh 20 percent or greater over their ideal body weight) and those with a higher percentage of body fat
  • A sedentary or inactive lifestyle—risk increases as level of physical activity decreases; exercise and physical activity help control weight, and it also uses up glucose, which makes the cells more receptive to insulin and its effects
  • Pregnancy and gestational diabetes—women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at greater risk for developing prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes later; additionally, women who give birth to babies who weighed more than nine pounds at birth are also at higher risk  Smoking—smoking increases the risk for many diseases, including diabetes
  • Alcohol use—heavy alcohol increases risk for diabetes; as the years of alcohol use increases, so does the risk of developing diabetes

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes that are not Usually Controllable

  • Family history or inherited tendency—risk increases for those with a parent of sibling with Type 2 diabetes
  • Race—although the reasons are not known, people of certain races, including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians, are at higher risk
  • Age—risk increases with age; most people who develop Type 2 diabetes are over the age of 45; however, it is increasing dramatically among children, teens and young adults
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome—women who have polycystic ovary syndrome may have a higher risk of diabetes, perhaps because obesity is one complication of the syndrome
  • Injury to the pancreas—any injury to the pancreas, whether from infection, a tumor, surgery or an accident, may increase risk of Type 2 diabetes, perhaps because it impairs the pancreas’s ability to properly produce insulin
  • Autoimmune disease—diabetes is a disease of the endocrine system, as are some other autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease and lupus; those with another autoimmune disease may be at higher risk for diabetes as well
  • Physical stress—surgery or illness can cause stress on the body and can temporarily increase the blood sugar. This blood sugar may require short-term medications to control until the stress or illness is gone.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes Related to other Health Conditions

There are other conditions that are often associated with diabetes. People who have one or more of these conditions may be at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol
  • High levels of triglycerides, another fat in the blood

When high blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal blood cholesterol and triglycerides occur together with obesity, they are associated with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can be a part of Type 2 diabetes.

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes

Although gestational diabetes is a risk for any pregnant woman, some women are at greater risk than others. Some of these risk factors are controllable, and some are not. The risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include:

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes that may be Controllable

  • Weight—being overweight before pregnancy increases a woman’s risk; however, women should not begin dieting during pregnancy without first discussing options with her healthcare provider

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes that are not Normally Controllable

  • Age—women over the age of 25 are at greater risk
  • Family history—if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has Type 2 diabetes, risk increases
  • Personal history—Women who already have prediabetes are at risk; additionally, any woman who has had gestational diabetes in the past, has delivered a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds, or has experienced an unexplained still birth is also at increased risk
  • Race—although the reasons are uncertain, women who are African American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian are more likely to develop gestational diabetes


If you would like to schedule an appointment with an endocrinologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, you may call the Physician Referral Service at 1-877-926-4664 or request a first time appointment online.


Last UpdateAugust 4, 2011


To make an appointment with a physician, please call 1-877-926-4664.

New patients can request an appointment online.