Learn more about diabetes screenings and why they're important.
For those unaffected, diabetes may seem like a rare condition, but it's more common than many people think. More than 30 million Americans have diabetes, but nearly one-quarter haven't been diagnosed. An additional 84 million people have prediabetes, meaning they're at risk of developing type 2.
There are plenty of treatment options available for people managing this disease, but if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as stroke, kidney failure, heart disease, and vision loss. A regular diabetes screening is one of the best ways to get a prompt diagnosis and help prevent these side effects.
What is a Diabetes Screening?
To diagnose diabetes, a health care professional will typically use one of four blood screening tests to measure blood sugar levels. The higher the levels, the more likely a person is to get a positive result. A screening test is usually performed twice on two different days to confirm the initial result.
The four screening tests include:
- A1c: Also called hemoglobin A1c test, this option determines your average blood glucose levels over the past two to three months. This test is not accurate under some circumstances, such as if you have iron-deficiency anemia, liver disease, kidney failure, or conditions that affect the lifespan of red blood cells. No fasting is required before the A1c test.
- Fasting Plasma Glucose: This test measures your blood glucose level at the time of the test. It has to be performed after fasting for at least eight hours, so it's best to have it done in the morning.
- Oral Glucose Tolerance: For this blood test, you will need to fast eight hours and then drink a sugary drink to determine whether your body can adequately process the sugar.
- Random Plasma Glucose: This test is only done on people exhibiting signs of diabetes to get an immediate blood sugar reading—no fasting is required.
The A1c test and the fasting plasma glucose tests are the most common screenings for diagnosing type 2 diabetes. Depending on your results, you may only need one test.
A diabetes screening is important both for those with symptoms and those without them. Some affected people only show mild symptoms, and a few may have no signs at all. Testing can help you detect the disease early so you and your doctor can develop a treatment plan to help manage your condition.
Who Should Get a Diabetes Screening?
The American Diabetes Association recommends getting screened every three years starting at age forty-five, whether you have symptoms or not. Anyone who exhibits symptoms or who meets one or more high-risk criteria should be screened earlier and possibly more frequently.
Symptoms may include:
- Extreme thirst and/or hunger
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
- Infections and/or slow wound healing
- Blurry vision
Risk factors can include:
- Having a family member with diabetes
- Being age 45 or older
- Being of African American, Mexican American, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, or Asian American descent
- Having had gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
- Low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels or high triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- History of heart disease or stroke
- Being overweight or obese
- Being inactive or sedentary
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Developing Diabetes?
If you meet any high-risk criteria, have been diagnosed with prediabetes, or want to reduce your risk for developing diabetes, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to improve your overall health.
- Lose Weight: Being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes and many other health conditions, including heart disease and stroke. Reducing your weight by just ten to fifteen pounds can help. There are lots of ways to get started, but you can try a new healthy eating plan that uses a food journal or buddy support system, and weigh yourself at least once a week to stay on track.
- Move More: Physical activity helps lower your cholesterol levels, relieve stress, and reduce blood pressure and blood glucose—all factors that contribute to diabetes. Aim to get about thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days a week. This doesn't necessarily mean the gym—exercise could be walking on your lunch break, taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator, or going for a bike ride. If you're just getting started or finding that thirty minutes can be a challenge, break it up into three ten-minute chunks of brisk walking or stair-climbing.
- Eat Healthier: Start your new plan by including more vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats in your diet and avoiding foods with added fat and sugar. Portion size is also important—even healthy foods should be consumed in moderation. Try eating smaller meals throughout the day to help keep your blood glucose levels within a healthy range.
Diabetes is not uncommon, but it doesn't have to define you. With the right management tools, you can effectively treat and even prevent it.
By Joelle Klein
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases, Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases, Your Game Plan to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases, Diabetes Tests & Diagnosis
Endocrineweb, Type 2 Diabetes: Key Facts
American Diabetes Association (ADA), Diabetes Symptoms
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Diabetes Statistics Report
American Diabetes Association, Lower Your Risk