It’s the fourth Tuesday in March, which means it’s time for Diabetes Alert Day.
Held by the American Diabetes Association, Alert Day is a one-day “wake-up call,” asking Americans to take the Diabetes Risk Test to find out if they are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes affects nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States. About one-quarter of them—7 million—do not even know they have it.
An additional 79 million, or one in three American adults, have prediabetes, which puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
What is prediabetes?
Pre-diabetes, says Dr. Floyd Shewmake, M.D., J.D., senior medical director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSA), refers to a blood sugar level which is higher than normal but not yet high enough to result in the diagnosis of diabetes. Almost all type 2 diabetics go through a period of time when they meet the criteria for pre-diabetes.
The only way to determine if you are pre-diabetic is to have a fasting blood sugar test done, he adds. Pre-diabetes has no symptoms but there is evidence that even at this early stage damage to critical organs such as the heart and kidneys can begin.
So, who’s at risk?
Adults and children who have one or both parents diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, says Shewmake.
Women who developed elevated blood sugars during pregnancy are also at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes as they get older, and should be monitored more closely for diabetes.
Shewmake says that the risk for developing diabetes can be delayed, or even avoided. Healthy dietary habits, maintaining a normal weight, and an active lifestyle with regular exercise can help.
Type 2 diabetes occurs more often in adults with high blood pressure, so Shewmake encourages regular checkups to make sure that blood pressure stays in the normal range.
Recent research shows a link between type 2 diabetes and the development of colon cancer. This association has been identified in several studies though it is not yet understood exactly why this link exists.
Colon cancer screening is important for all adults, says Shewman, and especially important for individuals with type 2 diabetes because of this link.
“We have known for years that the better the sugar is controlled, says Shewman, “the less likely secondary complications such as heart, vascular and kidney diseases will occur.” New drug therapies developed over the last ten years are helping type 2 diabetics better control their blood sugars.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona encourages families to follow the “5-2-1-0” plan for staying healthy and active. Aim for:
FIVE fruits or vegetables per day
TWO hours or less of screen time
ONE hour of physical activity
ZERO sweetened drinks.