Diabetes is a serious condition affecting 26 million Americans. Another 79 million people have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing the disease. Diabetes occurs when there is a shortage of insulin in the body or when the body loses its ability to use insulin or both. Insulin lowers blood sugar and converts glucose (sugar) to energy. Too much sugar in the blood causes damage to organs. People with diabetes have a higher incidence of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and a higher risk for amputation.
Diabetes testing can be done at your doctor’s office. All adults should have basic diabetes testing at age 40. Earlier testing is recommended for:
- Adults who are overweight/obese.
- Those with one or more risk factors. Primary risk factors for diabetes are family history, pregnancy and ethnicity. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are two ethnic groups at higher risk.
- Anyone with a history of smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C are two criteria used to diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes. Normal fasting blood sugar should be less than 100 mg/dl. Readings of 100 to 125 mg/dl indicate pre-diabetes, and readings of more than 125 mg/dl are consistent with diabetes. The hemoglobin A1C test, measuring the average amount of sugar in the blood over 60-90 days, is also used to diagnose diabetes. Hemoglobin A1C results of more than 6.5 percent indicate diabetes, while someone without diabetes will register an A1C of between 4 and 5.6 percent.
People with pre-diabetes are generally encouraged by their doctors to lose between 5 and 7 percent of their body weight and exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week. This may prevent the condition from progressing to diabetes. Today, doctors take a more patient-centered approach to treating those with diabetes that considers individual needs, preferences and tolerances. In addition to diet and lifestyle modifications, treatment options include oral diabetes medications, insulin injections and sometimes incretin mimetics – medications that signal the body to release insulin after eating. When doctors and patients work together, diabetes can be successfully managed and quality of life maintained.