The number of people with prediabetes has grown to 86 million in the U.S. That means 1 in 3 adults has blood sugar that’s higher than normal but not yet high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Of that 86 million, 9 out of 10 are not aware they have the condition. If left untreated, prediabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes within 5 years for 15% to 30% of those at risk. However, with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, a healthy diet, and regular moderate intensity exercise, as well as medication when needed, people with prediabetes can lower their risk of developing of diabetes and the serious complications it can cause.
But a recent study found that nearly half of the family physicians surveyed did not follow national guidelines for screening patients who may be at risk for prediabetes. The guidelines recommend that all adults who are overweight or obese or over age 45 should be screened with a blood test. In addition to being overweight, there are a number of other factors that may increase your risk of developing prediabetes and diabetes:
- For women, having gestational diabetes, giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, or having polycystic ovary syndrome
- Having a parent, brother, or sister who has diabetes
- Having high blood pressure
- Having low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and/or high triglyceride levels
- Having obstructive sleep apnea, which increases your risk of developing insulin resistance
- Being African American, Native American, Latin American, or Asian/Pacific Islander
What questions should you ask your doctor to ensure you get the screening you need?
The first step towards ensuring you’re undergoing appropriate screening for higher than normal blood sugar levels is to talk with your doctor about your personal risk for developing prediabetes and diabetes. Depending on your personal and family health history, your doctor will recommend an appropriate screening strategy.
To start the conversation, ask your doctor these questions:
- What are the risk factors for prediabetes and do I have any of them?
- What steps can I take to lower my risk of prediabetes?
- What lifestyle changes should I make? Ask for specific diet and exercise recommendations that are appropriate for you.
- Do I need to take medication or can I try lowering my risk through lifestyle changes first?
- If medication is prescribed, what are the potential side effects?
- How often should I see you for follow-up and testing to check my blood sugar?
- Should I see a specialist, such as an endocrinologist?
- Does having prediabetes increase my risk of developing other health problems?
- If I’m already living with a chronic health condition like heart disease, what’s the best approach to manage both conditions effectively?
A health advisor can also be a valuable resource if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes. Your advisor can connect you with nutritionists, trainers, and other specialists who can help you develop and stick with a plan to get better control of your risk factors and improve your overall wellbeing, which can also lower your risk of developing other health problems.