Symptoms of diabetes and prediabetes sometimes go unnoticed, but these conditions can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Here's why you should talk to your doctor about diabetes.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III MD, MPH
If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s important to consistently monitor your health and follow your diabetes management plan. Falling off track can lead to numerous health complications, including heart disease, stroke, and vision loss. However, many people with diabetes don’t realize they have it.
Almost 26 million Americans are living with diabetes, but about 7 million of them haven’t been diagnosed. Many other Americans are at risk of type 2 diabetes: About one out of four Americans over age 20 has prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not as high as with diabetes. Prediabetes can be reversed, but since it usually presents no symptoms, most people are unaware they’re at risk. Studies show that most people with prediabetes develop diabetes within 10 years.
Becoming informed about diabetes and helping spread awareness about it are the best steps you can take to protect your health and the health of your loved ones. A simple blood test can help doctors look for signs of diabetes and prediabetes, and lifestyle changes can help you manage either condition.
Understanding Diabetes Risks
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body becomes resistant to the hormone insulin. Insulin helps the cells of your body use sugar for energy. When you eat, your body breaks down that food into sugar. But if your cells become resistant to insulin, sugar starts to build up in your blood. People with diabetes need to watch for spikes in their blood sugar, which over time can cause many health complications, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, vision loss, nerve damage, foot problems, kidney disease, or bone and joint disorders.
People with prediabetes also need to manage their condition. Having prediabetes not only increases your type 2 diabetes risk, it also increases your risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent.
To prevent related health risks of diabetes and prediabetes, you need to work with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis, create a treatment plan, and follow up on your progress. People with type 2 diabetes may also work with a team of specialists that includes an endocrinologist, dietitian, podiatrist, and optometrist.
Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, but there are several factors that increase a person’s risk. One of the top risk factors for insulin resistance is obesity. Family history is another important factor, so if you have diabetes, encourage your family members to get tested.
The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetes screening if you are overweight and have another one of these risk factors:
Family history of diabetes
Abnormal cholesterol levels
High blood pressure
Being older than 45
Being of African American, Latino, American Indian, or Asian American descent
History of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or giving birth to a baby who weighs more than 9 pounds
You can also look out for the physical signs of diabetes. Let your doctor know if you have frequent thirst or hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision, frequent infections, or pain and numbness in your feet.
To screen for diabetes, doctors give a physical exam and ask about any risk factors. There are also two important blood tests that can be done as part of prediabetes and early type 2 diabetes screening:
Fasting glucose test. This blood test measures the level of sugar in your blood after you have fasted for eight hours. The test is usually done in the morning. A result between 100 and 125 mg/dL means you have prediabetes. A higher number is a sign of diabetes.
Glucose tolerance test. This blood test also measures blood sugar and is also done after an eight-hour fast. Two hours before the test you will be given a sugary drink. For this test, a level of 140 to 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes and a higher number is a sign of diabetes.
What Happens After a Diabetes Screening
If you have type 2 diabetes, you will need to make lifestyle changes that include diet and exercise, and in some cases you may need to take medication. You will also have to regularly check your blood sugar levels and follow up with your doctor to make sure you are controlling your condition.
If you have prediabetes, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes, including losing weight and getting regular exercise. Studies show that people with prediabetes who become more physically active and lose 5 to 7 percent of their body weight can lower their type 2 diabetes risk by nearly 60 percent. Your doctor will likely repeat your diabetes screening blood test in about two years.
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