Causes of type 2 diabetes

The causes of type 2 diabetes are multifactorial and complex. But even though there is no single cause, there are some well-known predisposing factors – the most overwhelming being obesity and a family history of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the result of both insulin resistance (when the cells don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from the blood) and progressive beta-cell damage, resulting in too little insulin being secreted by the pancreas.

By the time a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, up to 50% of the beta cells in the pancreas have usually been damaged. In fact, these cells may have been declining for up to 10 years before the diagnosis. Along with raised blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, this predisposes the person to arterial damage years before diabetes is diagnosed. So, at the time of diagnosis, the person is already at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Your risk of getting type 2 diabetes is higher if:

  • There’s a history of diabetes in your family
  • You’re middle-aged or older
  • You’re overweight or obese
  • You’re middle-aged and have high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • You’ve given birth to a child weighing more than 4.5kg, was diagnosed with gestational diabetesor have/had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Type 2 diabetes is also associated with insufficient physical activity, poor diet and extra weight carried around the waist.

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