Do You Know Your Prediabetes Risk?
Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
Diabetes is a common health concern. In fact, about 10% of the US population has diabetes. And it's estimated that about a third of US adults over 18 and nearly half of those over 65 have prediabetes. What's more, over 75% of those with prediabetes don't even know they have it.
You may have heard that diabetes can cause serious health problems over time. It can affect heart function, eyesight, kidney function, and cause poor blood circulation. Effective treatment of diabetes can delay or even prevent these problems. Not only that, but people with prediabetes can prevent progression to diabetes if they know of what to do. Treating health problems from diabetes has enormous costs, both in dollars and quality of life. So why are so many people in the dark about their diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes?
Well, that's not entirely clear. Lots of people who were unaware of their diagnosis were consistently seeing a healthcare provider. People don't have obvious symptoms with prediabetes (or even early diabetes) so maybe the doctor didn't test for it. It's also possible that a test was done but not discussed because of other pressing issues. Maybe the doctor did make the diagnosis and discuss it, but the person didn't understand clearly. Whatever the cause, there's no doubt that people with diabetes need to have the information that'll help them manage it.
We've talked about good doctor-patient communication in past articles. Good communication is a two-way street. Your doctor has a list of issues to talk about at every appointment, for sure. But you may have a somewhat different list, with different priorities. So getting the information you need starts with you. With your willingness to ask questions and make sure you understand the answers. Your willingness to know your health risks and talk frankly with your doctor about how to watch for problems. You and your healthcare provider will work better as a team if you agree on the goals for your health.
What is prediabetes?
Diabetes results when the body either stops producing insulin or stops being able to use the insulin it produces. When that happens, the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood stays higher than normal, and over time that damages many organs of the body. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas simply stops producing insulin at all. Type 1 diabetes tends to happen more often in children and teenagers and only accounts for about 10% of cases. Type 2 diabetes tends to happen in adults more often. In type 2, the body produces insulin but doesn't use it effectively
Prediabetes happens when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes. The body is just starting to lose its ability to use insulin effectively. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and all the health problems that go along with it.
Are you at risk for prediabetes?
Since prediabetes usually has no symptoms, the only way to find out about it is through testing. Your doctor may bring up the need for testing if she knows you're at risk. But knowing your own health risks will help you bring up the idea if your doctor doesn't.
- Risks for prediabetes include:
- A close family member with Type 2 diabetes
- Too little physical activity
- Age over 45
- Female gender
- Being overweight
There are other factors, too. The CDC has a quick risk test to help you decide if you should talk to your doctor about testing.
What can you do about prediabetes?
Here's the good news. If you have prediabetes, you can prevent it from progressing to Type 2 diabetes! If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm a pharmacist. So you might expect that prevention of Type 2 diabetes involves medicine. Nope! (Well, hardly ever, anyway.) It's all about lifestyle. It might take a little work, changing some of your routine. But with some modest changes you can successfully change the course of your health.
If you're overweight, losing just a few pounds can make a big difference. Just 10 pounds on a 200 pound person can improve the outcome tremendously.
Increasing your physical activity is another important way to improve your health. If you don't get much physical activity now, just find one activity you enjoy and put it in your schedule. Your ultimate goal is to get about 150 minutes of moderate activity every week, but start slow. You can build up gradually and still get plenty of health benefits.
If you smoke, think about making a plan to stop. Not an easy thing to do for many, but there's lots of help out there. Even if it takes several tries, the health benefits will be worth the effort.
Stress reduction is also a big part of overall good health. Research has shown that high levels of stress and increase blood sugar levels, and suggests that those with stress, anxiety, and depression may have a higher risk of diabetes. Learning new ways to cope with stress is an important part of diabetes prevention.
Here are some resources to help if you've learned you have prediabetes. Even if you're just at risk of prediabetes, the CDC Diabetes Prevention Program, the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program, and for those living in my state of Michigan, the Michigan Diabetes Prevention Program are all great ways to get started on a healthier lifestyle!
As always, we welcome your comments and questions. Especially if you have experience with prediabetes, diabetes, and lifestyle changes, we'd love to hear from you. You can comment below, or contact us directly at BetterMyMeds!
Also worth mentioning is the link between diabetes and other health issues. For instance, a recent study found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who don’t have the disease.
Thanks Tony, I hadn’t read that before so didn’t realize that hearing loss was associated with diabetes. Just one more reason for all of us to stay aware.