What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a
medical condition that affects your body’s ability to produce insulin, use
insulin effectively, or both. Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use
glucose, or sugar, for energy. It acts as a “bridge” that allows the sugar to
go from the blood and into the cell. If
the sugar stays in the blood, the unused glucose will build up in your body,
which can lead to nerve and organ damage.
A physician can
also diagnose you with prediabetes. This condition indicates a high risk of
developing diabetes. Making healthy lifestyle changes may help prevent progressing
from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.
can be a dangerous and life-threatening condition, it is important that it is diagnosed
as early as possible. The early stages of diabetes may not cause any symptoms.
Recognizing high blood glucose levels as quickly as possible can reduce the
complications associated with diabetes.
What Tests Are Used
to Diagnose Diabetes?
Four major tests can diagnose diabetes.
Because there are three main diabetes types–type I, type II and gestational
diabetes–a physician will recommend the appropriate test for you. All tests
require a blood sample.
The A1C test
measures how much glycated hemoglobin, a protein found in the red blood cells. When
blood sugar levels are high, more sugar attaches to the hemoglobin. Since
hemoglobin turns over every two to three months this test measures how your
blood sugar levels have averaged over two to three months. This can indicate to
your physician that your blood sugar has been higher than normal over this
period of time. Your doctor may choose to confirm these results on another
day. You do not have to fast for this
The fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test is
performed when you have not had anything to eat or drink except water for eight
hours. A high fasting glucose level on two separate occasions can be
used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes.
The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is a
diagnostic diabetes test most commonly used to diagnose gestational diabetes.
It can also diagnose type 2 diabetes. To test for type 2 diabetes, the test is
performed over two hours. A physician will first take a sample of blood when
you are fasting, and then have you drink a sweet beverage that contains 75
grams of glucose. Two hours later, they will test your blood again to see if
your body effectively processed the glucose.
The fourth test type is the random plasma
glucose test. This test checks your blood sugar levels randomly at any time of
day, without fasting. Two high random glucose levels are needed to diagnose diabetes
unless you have signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Who Should Be Tested
If you are older than age 45, the American
Diabetes Association recommends testing for diabetes. However, if you have
diabetes risk factors or symptoms, you may need earlier testing. Indications
for testing people younger than 45 include being overweight (body mass index of
25 or more) plus one or more of the following:
family history of diabetes
history of gestational diabetes
birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome
conditions that increase your risk for insulin resistance
diagnosis of prediabetes or high blood sugar
cholesterol levels less than 35 mg/dl
levels higher than 250 mg/dl
of high blood pressure
medications for high blood pressure
a member of a high-risk genetic population, such as African-American,
Asian-American, Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander
Examples of diabetes symptoms include unexplained fatigue, increased urination,
constant thirst or hunger, blurry vision, and sores that will not heal.
information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you are concerned
you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
Risks of Diabetes
Blood samples for testing presents minimal
physical risk. However, these tests can sometimes yield a false positive or
negative result. For example, if you are anemic, your A1C results may be
inaccurate because anemia affects the amount of hemoglobin in the blood.
Results of Diabetes Diagnosis Tests
Unless you have
diabetes symptoms, diabetes diagnosis usually requires two consecutive tests. The
following are general diagnostic values for diabetes:
For the A1C test:
For the FPG test:
than 100 mg/dl is considered normal
to 125 mg/dl is considered prediabetes
mg/dl or higher is considered diabetes
For the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)
(type 2 diabetes only):
than 140 mg/dl is considered normal
to 199 mg/dl is considered prediabetes
mg/dl and higher is considered diabetes
For the random plasma glucose test:
mg/dl or greater could indicate diabetes
Positive Diabetes Testing
Your physician can
use your results and symptoms to recommend a diabetes treatment plan. Some
patients can control diabetes through a healthy diet and exercise plan, with
weight loss as needed. Others may require medications along with diet and
exercise to help manage blood sugar levels.
Making healthy choices
to either reduce your risk of developing diabetes or to control your diabetes
is vital for your overall health. Good blood sugar control can prevent diabetes
complications such as kidney or eye disease, or nerve damage.