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Living Well

When to Test for Diabetes

Last updated: Jun 26, 2017

Figuring out when to test patients for diabetes is more of an art than a science, explains Jill Gora, MD, family medicine physician at Summit Medical Group. Sure, there are guidelines based on your age. But there are also many other factors that come into play, including your family history, level of physical activity, diet, and weight.

The most important thing you can do to help identify diabetes before it starts is to see a primary care physician (PCP) every year for a check-up.

  • More than one in three Americans have prediabetes–meaning their blood sugar level is higher than normal but not bad enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.

  • Prediabetes rarely has any symptoms.

  • If left unchecked, some 15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years.

“Sometimes people are reluctant to see the doctor if they are not sick. But prediabetes does not have any symptoms–it develops over the course of several years. In order to catch it, you have go for that yearly physical and be seen when you are still feeling well,” says Dr. Gora.

“Diabetes is one of the few diseases that is actually curable. When we see patients once a year we have the opportunity to keep them healthy and avoid diabetes from surprising us down the road.”

Research shows that individuals who have an ongoing relationship with their PCP have better overall health, longer lives, and fewer health care costs. When conditions like prediabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure are found, they can take steps to control–or in many cases, even reverse–the condition before permanent damage occurs.

When are healthy adults screened for diabetes?

  • The average patient without any risk factors may be screened for diabetes every three years.

  • All healthy adults should be tested at age 45 for diabetes.

Do you know your risk factors for diabetes?

If you are considered to be at a high risk of developing diabetes, your doctor will likely suggest that you be screened earlier. Factors that increase your susceptibility of having high blood sugar include:

  • Being over 45 years old

  • Being overweight or obese

  • A family history (parent or sibling) with diabetes

  • A history of gestational diabetes or delivery of a baby over 9 lbs. or more

  • High blood pressure or high cholesterol

  • Physical inactivity (exercising less than three times per week)

Do you have one or more of these risk factors? Take the American Diabetes Association Risk Test. Discuss the results with your physician.

How do PCPs identify diabetes?

The fasting plasma glucose (FGP) test is typically the first screening for prediabetes and diabetes. Patients are asked not to eat or drink beverages other than water for at least 8 hours before the blood test. The results are:

  • Normal - if your blood sugar is less than 100

  • Prediabetes - if your blood sugar is 100-125

  • Diabetes - if your blood sugar is 126 or higher

Other tests that may be used to screen for diabetes include A1C, the 75-g oral glucose tolerance test, and the two-hour plasma glucose.

References:

  1. Interview with Jill Gora, MD, family physician at Summit Medical Group (5/9/17).

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes. Web. 28 December 2016.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes. Web. 31 March 2015.

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