More than one in five people in the United States have diabetes and don’t even know it. That’s more than seven million people unaware that they’re living with diabetes and all the potential health risks it poses. In Colorado, more than 115,000 people don’t realize they have prediabetes or diabetes. Although the numbers are daunting, the good news is that this health epidemic can be controlled.
Diabetes puts people at risk for nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, foot and limb injuries, vision problems, and other complications that arise from having uncontrolled blood sugar, as the US National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus guide cautions. Diabetes can even increase a person’s risk of developing severe COVID-19.
National Diabetes Month is held each November to raise awareness about the risk factors, symptoms, and types of diabetes and celebrate the progress made to combat this devastating health condition. This year’s focus is on prevention and prediabetes.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a group of metabolic disorders that prevent your body from using sugar (glucose) to create energy, which results in a buildup of extra glucose in your bloodstream. It develops when your digestive system breaks down certain foods into sugar—carbohydrates, like bread or rice—and your system cannot produce a “key” to direct the sugar to the cells where it’s used to make energy.
That “key” is insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas, an organ located behind your stomach. When your pancreas releases insulin into your bloodstream, it acts as the “key” to unlock the cell wall “door,” which allows glucose to reach your body’s cells. Glucose provides the “fuel” or energy tissues and organs need to function correctly.
What Is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes means your blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes yet. Because there are typically no symptoms, most people don’t know they are prediabetic, but it can lead to type 2 diabetes unless you take steps to prevent it. However, not all prediabetes leads to type 2 diabetes.
Are You At Risk?
There are several risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, including:
- Being overweight
- Being 45 years or older
- Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
- Being physically active less than three times a week
- Having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds
- Being African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, or Alaska Native (some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at higher risk)
The safest way to know if you’re at risk is to make an appointment with your primary health care provider who may refer you to an endocrinologist for further treatment. Doctors use several tests to diagnose prediabetes and type 2 diabetes:
The A1C Test
This test measures your blood sugar over the past two to three months. Prediabetes is diagnosed at an A1C between 5.7 to 6.4 percent; diabetes is diagnosed at an A1C greater than or equal to 6.5 percent.
Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG)
An FPG test is done before you’ve had anything to eat for eight hours. Prediabetes is diagnosed at a fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl; diabetes is diagnosed at greater than or equal to 126 mg/dl.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)
The OGTT tells the doctor how your body processes sugar by checking your blood sugar levels before and two hours after you drink a special sweet drink. Prediabetes is diagnosed at a two-hour blood sugar of 140 mg/dl to 199 mg/dl; Diabetes is diagnosed at a two-hour blood sugar of greater than or equal to 200 mg/dl.
How Can I Prevent or Manage Diabetes?
Diabetes is a significant factor for many health issues. Those issues can range from short-term complications, such as Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia, to long-term complications such as cardiovascular conditions or stroke. The great news is that you can prevent prediabetes and even type 2 diabetes with a few simple lifestyle changes:
- Take small steps. Making changes to your lifestyle and daily habits can be hard, but you don’t have to change everything at once. It is okay to start small. Remember that setbacks are normal and do not mean you have failed—the key is to get back on track as soon as you can.
- Move more. Limit time spent sitting and try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days a week. Start slowly by breaking it up throughout the day.
- Choose healthier foods and drinks most of the time. Pick foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and sugar. Build a plate that includes a balance of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. Drink water instead of sweetened drinks.
- Lose weight, track it, and keep it off. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5 to 7 percent of your starting weight.
- Seek support. It is possible to reverse prediabetes. Making a plan, tracking your progress, and getting support from your health care professional and loved ones can help you make the necessary lifestyle changes.
- Stay up to date on vaccinations. The COVID-19 (booster shot, if eligible) and flu vaccines are especially important for people who may be more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 or the flu, such as people with diabetes.
Early detection is the best defense against diabetes, which can cause debilitating health problems and even shorten your life. So why take unnecessary chances with your health? Instead, contact your doctor for a referral today!