Diabetes is a common health problem in the United States. Experts estimate that over 37 million Americans have diabetes, but as many as 8.5 million people don’t know they have the disease.1 Untreated diabetes can lead to more serious health conditions, including heart damage, vision loss, nerve pain, and an increased risk of needing a limb amputation.
Diagnosing diabetes usually only requires a simple blood test. Your doctor can help you determine your diabetes risk and ensure you get the diabetes screening and treatment you need.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body metabolizes food and turns it into energy.2 Typically, when you eat food, your body breaks it down into glucose, which enters your bloodstream. The increase in blood sugar surge signals the pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that allows cells to use glucose for energy.
Diabetes affects insulin production or reduces your body’s ability to respond to insulin. There are two main types of chronic diabetes:
- Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t produce insulin or does not produce enough insulin to convert glucose into energy.3 Instead, the glucose stays in the bloodstream causing high blood sugar levels. Over time this can lead to health issues such as kidney damage, heart disease, vision loss, nerve pain and damage to the legs and feet. Type 1 diabetes can be congenital, or it can develop later. Treatment for type 1 diabetes requires the use of insulin as well as diet changes.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes occurs when cells in the body don’t respond appropriately to insulin.4 The cells don’t use blood glucose correctly, causing high blood sugar. It can cause health issues such as heart damage, kidney damage, nerve pain, circulatory problems and eye damage. Type 2 diabetes can occur at any age, though it is more common in older adults. You may be able to manage type 2 diabetes with diet and lifestyle changes, though some people need insulin in addition.
- Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after the birth of the baby.5 Screening for gestational diabetes is a standard part of prenatal care. Your healthcare provider will help you manage gestational diabetes with blood sugar monitoring and diet changes. Most people with gestational diabetes do not need insulin.
Who should be screened for diabetes?
Screening recommendations for diabetes depend on your age, risk factors and symptoms. The American Diabetes Association recommends annual type 2 diabetes tests for adults 35 years and older and for people under 35 years who have major risk factors for diabetes.6 Risk factors may include:
- Family history of diabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Cholesterol imbalances
- History of prediabetes
- History of gestational diabetes
- History of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
You should ask your doctor for diabetic screening if you have symptoms of diabetes such as:
- Frequent urination
- Frequent infections and slow wound healing
- Increased thirst
- Increase hunger
- Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
- Unintended weight loss
- Vision changes such as blurred vision
What happens during a diabetes screening?
When you go for a diabetes screening, your doctor will ask you about your medical history, including family members who may have had diabetes. They may do an exam to check your vitals, like blood pressure and respiration, as well as conduct blood tests to screen for diabetes. Depending on the type of testing they use to detect diabetes, you may have to refrain from eating for a specific period before your appointment.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
There are a variety of tests that doctors can use to diagnose diabetes, including:7
- A1C Test: A glycated hemoglobin test, also called an A1C test, is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. An A1C result below 5.7% is considered normal. A level between 5.7 and 6.4% indicates that you have prediabetes. A level of 6.5% or higher indicates that you have diabetes.
- Fasting Blood Sugar Test: Your doctor will ask you to refrain from eating overnight. In the morning, you will give a blood sample. A fasting blood sugar level of 99 mg/dL or lower is considered normal. A level of 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates you have prediabetes. A level of 126 mg/dL or higher indicates that you have diabetes.
- Random Blood Sugar Test: This is a blood test to measure blood sugar without fasting first. If your blood sugar level is 200 mg/dL or higher, you have diabetes.
- Glucose Tolerance Test: This test is most commonly used to diagnose gestational diabetes, but it can be used for other types of diabetes. You will need to fast overnight, then give a blood sample to check your fasting blood sugar. After that, you will drink a high-glucose liquid. Your doctor will check your blood sugar at intervals after you drink the liquid. A blood sugar level of 140 mg/dL or lower after 2 hours is considered normal. A level of 140 to 199 mg/dL after 2 hours indicates you have prediabetes. A level of 200 mg/dL or higher after 2 hours indicates that you have diabetes.
How can I get screened for diabetes?
If you need diabetes screening, call your primary care doctor to set up an appointment to discuss diabetes tests. Healthcare Associates of Texas offers comprehensive care for diabetes, including screening.
Where can I get a diabetes screening?
If you cannot get diabetes testing with your primary care provider, you may be able to access screening at some walk-in care clinics. You can also call your local department of health and ask about free or low-cost diabetes screening resources in your area.
If you learn that you have diabetes, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan. You will need to see your doctor periodically to have your A1C levels retested and keep an eye on your overall health. You will also need to adopt treatment methods which may include:
- Diet changes
- Weight loss
- Increased physical activity
- Blood sugar monitoring
If you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes that does not respond to lifestyle changes alone, you will need to take insulin. Your doctor will talk to you about your insulin needs and the best option for taking insulin long-term.
Diabetes does not have a cure, but with proper care, it can be a manageable condition. If you have questions about diabetes screenings or treatment or if you need support for managing diabetes, contact your healthcare provider. They can answer your questions and help you get the care you need.
- “Diabetes Statistics.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/diabetes-statistics#factsstats.
- “Diabetes Basics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/index.html.
- “Type 1 diabetes.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353017.
- “Type 2 diabetes.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351199.
- “Gestational Diabetes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/gestational.html.
- “The ADA’s 2022 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes Update.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). February 23, 2022. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/professionals/diabetes-discoveries-practice/ada-2022-standards-of-medical-care-in-diabetes-update.
- “Diabetes Tests.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/getting-tested.html.