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Diabetes screening: helping you get ahead of a common chronic disease

  • Category: Diabetes
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Diabetes screening: helping you get ahead of a common chronic disease

Diabetes screening: helping you get ahead of a common chronic disease

If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body has trouble moving glucose, or sugar, from your blood into your cells to convert to energy. As a result, too much sugar stays in your blood. Type 2 diabetes is good at flying under the radar, can take years to develop, and may not cause symptoms, at least at first. But don’t be fooled—it can have high-impact effects on your life. That’s why diabetes screening is important.

Undergoing regular diabetes screening can lead to an early diagnosis and kickstart diabetes care. If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to start managing it as soon as possible to reduce your risk of complications, such as heart disease and kidney damage. With commitment and help from your medical team, especially your primary care provider (PCP), you can thrive while living with diabetes.

What is diabetes screening?

Diabetes screening is testing for the disease before you have symptoms. An absence of symptoms doesn’t mean an absence of diabetes—or its precursor, prediabetes.

You may have prediabetes if your blood sugar is high but not high enough to qualify as Type 2 diabetes. You’re more likely to develop diabetes if you have prediabetes. Incredibly, more than one-third of U.S. adults have prediabetes. Still, fewer than 20% know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To perform a diabetes screening, your PCP will order a blood test—more than one kind of test may be necessary—to check the amount of sugar in your blood. One of the most common diabetes screenings is a fasting plasma glucose test. You’ll need to avoid eating or drinking anything except water for eight hours before your test. A blood sugar level of 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) indicates you have prediabetes. If your test result is 126 mg/dL or higher, you have diabetes.

Another test you may need to undergo is an A1C test. This test allows your PCP to get a more long-term view of your diabetes risk by seeing your average blood sugar level during the past three months. You have prediabetes if your A1C is 5.7% to 6.4%. An A1C of 6.5% or higher indicates diabetes. You’ll need to undergo an A1C test at least twice yearly if you’re diagnosed with diabetes.

If your test results show prediabetes or diabetes, your PCP will discuss with you how you can manage the condition. Have prediabetes? Healthy lifestyle changes may help prevent or delay diabetes.

When should you undergo diabetes screening?

Talk with your PCP about when to have a diabetes screening based on your risk factors. For example, excess body weight is a common risk factor and is one reason the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends diabetes screening for everyone who is overweight or obese, beginning at age 35.

If your test results are normal, you may only need to undergo a diabetes screening every three years. Continue to undergo screening until you turn 70, although your PCP may recommend additional screenings moving forward.

Know your risk factors

In addition to being overweight or obese, aging is a crucial risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, which is common among older adults. Diabetes affects around 33% of people age 65 and older, according to the Endocrine Society.

Several other factors can increase your risk for diabetes, including:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Having had gestational diabetes, or diabetes during pregnancy
  • Not being physically active

Points of prevention

It’s not always possible to prevent diabetes, but the good news is you can do a lot to reduce your risk. Undergoing a diabetes screening is a great place to start. Taking action is critical because diabetes not only causes its own symptoms; it also increases risk for kidney disease, stroke, and heart attack, among other health problems.

Here are some key anti-diabetes steps you can take:

  • Watch what you eat. Make it a priority to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting or avoiding consumption of salt- and sugar-rich processed foods.
  • Be more physically active. Regular exercise reduces the risk of diabetes by lowering blood sugar. It can also help you lose weight, and weight loss of just 5-10 percent may keep diabetes from developing, according to the National Library of Medicine.
  • Give up smoking. If you smoke, your body may have a harder time using insulin, which helps send sugar from your blood to your cells. Difficulty using insulin increases your diabetes risk.

Your PCP is a key partner in helping you manage or reduce your risk for diabetes. Find a PCP near you.