But, according to The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, it is possible to change your life's course and steer clear of it if you're at risk.
In the first of a three-part series on diabetes Thursday, Senay stressed that it's critical to act early and decisively to do an about-face and lose weight and exercise.
She said experts blame increasing obesity and a lack of exercise for the sharp rise in type 2 diabetes in this country. The disease usually takes hold when the body loses its ability to either make or process insulin properly. Insulin, a hormone produced by the body, is needed to convert sugars and other elements of the food we eat into the energy we need to sustain life.
Generally, Senay observed, type 2 diabetes is a permanent condition — all the more reason it's important for people who show signs of developing the disease to do all they can to stop its progress.
There is a condition, known as pre-diabetes, in which levels of sugar in the blood are higher than normal but not yet at levels where the disease is locked in. Untreated, the condition can become full-blown diabetes. But if doctors, and especially the patient, get busy right away, there is a real chance of slowing, stopping or even reversing the onset of diabetes.
A recent study suggests the most effective actions come down to two words: lose weight. Taking off about 11 pounds cuts the risk of developing diabetes within three years by 55 percent. Larger weight losses translated into even greater reductions in diabetes risk.
There is medication that also can help to ward off diabetes, especially in adults under 45. But for most people, the bottom line is losing weight — and making it an absolute priority. If ever there's a time in your life to get help from your doctor or a dietitian, to make sure the pounds really come off, this is it, Senay emphasized.
Who's at risk?
At the top of the list, Senay said, are people who are overweight. This form of diabetes used to be called "adult onset," but now, even children can get this disease, especially if they are obese. Also, your risk gets higher when you reach 45. Additional signs your blood sugar levels need to be checked regularly include having high blood pressure, low levels of HDL ("good cholesterol"), or a sedentary life style.
Senay added that there are no symptoms of pre-diabetes, which she called "one of the problems." By the time you feel the well-known symptoms of diabetes, such as thirst and frequent urination, she said, the condition is probably too advanced to reverse.
That's why you need to get blood-sugar levels tested long before that point, especially if you're at risk. Of course, the same focus on losing weight that can help if you develop pre-diabetes will do even more good if you take off the pounds even sooner — long before the disease starts developing.
For much more on type 2 diabetes, from the American Diabetes Association, click here.