November 02, 2011
Tracy Breen, MD
The US is experiencing a diabetes epidemic that affects about 26 million adults. And the numbers are growing: almost 40 percent of adults in the US already suffer from “pre-diabetes.” People with pre-diabetes have a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes unless they make major lifestyle changes--particularly regarding exercise and weight management.
Diabetes can be costly and debilitating. Its complications include heart attacks, strokes, vascular problems, blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage. Keeping diabetes under control can help reduce the risk these complications, but the most effective way to prevent diabetes complications is to prevent diabetes in the first place.
A simple blood test, known as a Hemoglobin A1c (or simply A1c), screens for diabetes and pre-diabetes.
The following people should be screened every year with an A1c test:
- All adults over 45
- All adults with hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Overweight adults (with a body mass index of 25 or over) with one other risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include: having an immediate relative with diabetes, having a personal history of gestational diabetes or diabetes during pregnancy, having a sedentary lifestyle, or belonging to higher risk ethnic groups such as African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans or Asians.
A diagnosis of pre-diabetes is a chance to avoid Type 2 diabetes. Research shows that adults with pre-diabetes who increase physical activity--30 minutes of brisk walking a day, during most days of the week--can dramatically reduce the risk of progressing to Type 2 diabetes. Simple regular exercise, such as walking, combined with healthy changes in eating is more effective than medication at reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.