Have a Holiday Heart-to-Heart

The holidays are known as a time for family gatherings, catching up with relatives, and sometimes even the occasional family conflict.  Like drama at the holiday dinner table, in many ways your health is influenced by your family-for better or for worse.  This year, why not start a conversation that benefits everyone?  Gather your family health history.

Why It’s Important

Family history of disease is an important part of understanding your risk for developing a number of serious diseases, including type 2 diabetes.  Diabetes is a serious disease that, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems including blindness, loss of limb, kidney failure, heart disease, and early death.  In fact, most people with type 2 diabetes have a family member-such as a mother, father, brother, or sister-with the disease.

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) encourages all families to gather their family health history this holiday season and help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in future generations.

By knowing your family health history, sharing it with your health care team, and taking important steps-such as maintaining a healthy weight or losing a small amount of weight if you are overweight, making healthy food choices, and being physically active-you can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes (as well as other serious diseases) and help ensure that you will be enjoying holiday family gatherings for years to come.

Four Questions You Should Ask

The answers to these key questions could help you prevent type 2 diabetes in your future.

  • Does anyone in the family have type 2 diabetes?  Who has type 2 diabetes?
  • Has anyone in the family been told they might get diabetes?
  • Has anyone in the family been told they need to lower their weight or increase their physical activity to prevent type 2 diabetes?
  • Did your mother get diabetes when she was pregnant?  This condition is also known as gestational diabetes.

If the answer to any of these is yes, or you have a mother, father, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes, you may be at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.  Talk to your doctor and visit www.YourDiabetesInfo.org to learn more about managing your risk and preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes.

Your History Affects Your Child’s Future

While you’re gathering your family’s history, you need to take your own into consideration as well.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and affects about 7 percent of all U.S. pregnancies-or about 200,000 pregnancies each year.  If you had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, you and your child have a lifelong risk for getting diabetes.

  • Women with a history of gestational diabetes have a 40 to 60 percent chance of developing diabetes in the 5 to 10 years after delivery.
  • The children of pregnancies where the mother had gestational diabetes are also at increased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes should be tested for diabetes six to 12 weeks after their baby is born, and at least every three years after that.  Mothers should let their child’s doctor know that they had gestational diabetes.
  • Women with a history of gestational diabetes can lower their risk for developing diabetes by making an effort to reach and maintain a healthy weight, making healthy food choices, and being active for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week.  Keeping a healthy lifestyle helps mother and child lower their risk for getting diabetes in the future.

For a free tip sheet on gestational diabetes, including steps to reduce the risk of developing diabetes, call the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) at 1-888-693-NDEP (6337) or visit its website at http://www.yourdiabetesinfo.org/.

Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors

In addition to family history and gestational diabetes, there are other factors that increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

If one or more of the following items apply to you, be sure to talk with your health care team about your risk for developing type 2 diabetes and whether you should be tested.

  • I am 45 years of age or older.
  • I have been told by my doctor to lose weight.
  • My family background is African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
  • I have been told that my blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are higher than normal.
  • My blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, or I have been told that I have high blood pressure.
  • My cholesterol (lipid) levels are not normal. My HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) is less than 35 or my triglyceride level is higher than 250.
  • I am physically active less than three times a week.
  • I have been told that I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • The skin around my neck or in my armpits appears dirty no matter how much I scrub it. The skin appears dark, thick, and velvety.
  • I have been told that I have blood vessel problems affecting my heart, brain, or legs.
Source: NIH

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