Before most people develop full-blown diabetes, they likely suffer from prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar is higher than normal but not so high that an individual is considered diabetic. People with prediabetes are at greater risk for heart disease, and as many as 65 percent of prediabetics go on to develop type 2 diabetes. The problem is that very few people know they have it, according to a new government study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
THE DETAILS: The researchers analyzed data from 1,402 adults over the age of 20 who had participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2005Ã¢â‚¬“2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey involved physical examinations as well as home interviews, during which the participants were asked whether they'd ever been told by a healthcare professional that they had diabetes. They were also asked if they'd engaged in any healthy behaviors, such as trying to lose weight, cutting calorie consumption, or increasing their levels of exercise. The researchers found than 29.6 percent of U.S. adults had prediabetes that year, but only 7.3 percent had been told by a doctor that they had it. People with prediabetes (whether they knew it or not) were more likely to be older males, and a third of the them had been told by their doctors to lose weight or cut calories from their diets. Another third had been told to increase their levels of physical activity. People with prediabetes were also more likely to be in high-risk groups for diabetes, meaning they had a genetic history of the disease or had physical problems, such as high cholesterol, that put them at high risk.
WHAT IT MEANS: A lot of people in this country are in the early stages of developing diabetes, and don't know it. "We know that healthy behaviors such as moderate exercise or a very small amount of weight loss are associated with delaying or preventing diabetes altogether," says Christine Tobin, RN, president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. "There is something people can do about this." But not if they don't know they have the condition in the first place.
Tobin thinks the lack of awareness has to do with our treatment-oriented (as opposed to prevention-oriented) healthcare system, as well as patients' unwillingness to follow doctor's orders, even when doctors do suggest they get out and exercise more or eat more healthfully. But, she says, for both doctors and patients, "preventing prediabetes means that they will not have to have the additional expense of taking medications, frequent blood testing, and frequent doctor visits. That usually appeals to a lot of people."
If you fall into a risk group for diabetes, take some steps to find out if you have prediabetes, and to prevent it from developing into full-fledged diabetes:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Get tested. People with prediabetes won't suffer any obvious physical symptoms of the disorder, Tobin says, and the only way to determine whether you have it is with a glucose tolerance test. The most accurate test is an oral glucose tolerance test, which is used less frequently than the cheaper, less accurate, fasting glucose tolerance test. You can also take an online test to assess your risk of diabetes.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Get to the doctor. In order to get tested, you have to visit your doctor regularly. The tests are usually performed during an annual physical, but one characteristic among patients in this study who had prediabetes is that 17 percent had not been to a doctor in the previous year. If the bad economy has left you without health insurance, read our article on finding free or low-cost health services.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Don't live in denial. People at high risk for diabetes, whether they have prediabetes or not, are often in denial about it, Tobin says. But, she reiterates, "there is something you can do about this, and get really fantastic results." If you're genetically predisposed to diabetes or your doctor has suggested that you're at risk, meet with a nutritionist who can help you find the best foods to treat diabetes, and start walking for 30 minutes every day. Fruits, vegetables, and exercise never landed anyone in the hospital!