Diabetes Awareness Month
November is Diabetes Awareness Month.
As a certified diabetes educator that works with people with diabetes – type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes – I naturally thought this would be a perfect month to share some statistics regarding the prevalence of diabetes, as well as discuss symptoms of diabetes, and how diabetes is diagnosed.
If you’re reading this, you may already have diabetes or maybe you are reading this because you’re scared that you have diabetes and aren’t quite sure what to do, or how to bring it up to your physician.
I want you to know that you are not alone.
Diabetes by the Numbers
Did you know that at least 30 million Americans are living with diabetes? Unfortunately, 25 percent of these people are unaware they have it.
The prevalence of diabetes is on the rise – 1 out of 3 people will develop diabetes in their lifetime. That means that 33 percent of Americans will eventually have some type of diabetes. And it will most likely be type 2 diabetes because 90 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
If you thought that there were a lot of people with diabetes, there are about 84 million people with prediabetes, which is “condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.”
So, now that you know how common diabetes is, let’s discuss the symptoms of diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Often, people do not know they have diabetes until their blood sugar levels are very high. I have heard diabetes called a “silent” disease because it can go undetected for a long time if your physician is not screening you.
When your blood sugar levels are only slightly elevated, it is not uncommon to have no symptoms at all. When your blood sugar levels become quite elevated, you begin to have symptoms.
Symptoms of diabetes may include:
- Increased thirst, hunger, and/or urination
- Weight loss without trying
- Dry mouth
- Vision changes
If you note the symptoms above, it is time to make an appointment with your physician. It is likely that your physician will order lab work, as well as a urine test and possibly a finger-stick blood sugar level test.
The physician will assess the values from all of this information, in addition to the symptoms you’ve discussed, and his or her assessment skills, to reach a diagnosis. They will likely diagnose with you type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
So… What Is With the Labs?
I’ve had plenty of patients wonder how their physician was able to diagnose them with diabetes with a simple blood test. Diabetes is such a life-altering diagnosis. After all, blood tests can be wrong, right?
Well, any blood test can be wrong. But… the way diabetes is diagnosed is pretty foolproof these days.
One way that we can diagnose type 2 diabetes is the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. You may hear your physician call it simply the “A1C” or the “hemoglobin A1C.”
- The glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test is an average of your blood sugar for the past two to three months. It measures the blood sugar that attaches to your hemoglobin – so if your blood sugar has been high, your A1C will be high. To make a definitive diagnosis of diabetes, an A1C must be 6.5% or above.
Once you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the A1C is drawn periodically to assess how well your blood sugar levels are controlled.
- A random blood sugar test can also be used. A random blood sugar (regardless of what was eaten before the blood draw) that is 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or higher is diagnostic of diabetes – especially when coupled with any of the symptoms listed above.
- A fasting blood sugar test is drawn after not consuming caloric food or beverages overnight. A fasting blood sugar level of less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) is considered normal. A level of 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.9 to 6.9 mmol/L) is considered prediabetes. Higher than 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) on two separate occasions is diagnostic for diabetes.
- An oral glucose tolerance test is also drawn after an overnight fast. The fasting blood sugar is first drawn. Then a sugary beverage is consumed, and blood sugar levels are drawn periodically over the next two hours. According to Mayo Clinic, “A blood sugar level less than 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) is normal. A reading between 140 and 199 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L and 11.0 mmol/L) indicates prediabetes. A reading of 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or higher after two hours may indicate diabetes.”
Next page: Learn about the history of diabetes from past to present, and more.