Family Health: Screening test can help delay, prevent diabetes

Compared with most other states, Montana has a relatively low incidence of diabetes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem here – our rates have more than doubled since the 1990s. Today, just under 8 percent of adults in Montana have this condition.

Those people can face serious health problems. Diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it properly, resulting in high levels of blood glucose (blood sugar). That can eventually lead to conditions such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and blindness. And impaired circulation from diabetes can lead to lower-limb amputations.

However, there are ways to make the picture much brighter. The key is to start early and be consistent with steps to minimize your risks for complications. People with diabetes must monitor their blood glucose, and it’s often necessary to take insulin or medications to maintain healthy levels. According to the National Diabetes Education Program, healthy lifestyle habits can also make a big difference.

For example, being physically active helps control blood glucose. People who are overweight can improve their blood glucose and also their blood pressure and cholesterol by losing just 10 to 15 pounds. A healthy diet, including fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains foods, lean meats and low-fat dairy products, provides beneficial nutrients and also helps you lose weight. And staying away from tobacco products helps protect your heart, lungs, blood vessels, eyes, nerves and other organs.

These healthy lifestyle habits do more than minimize complications from diabetes. They also help delay or prevent this condition in the first place. That means they should be a top priority for people who have a higher-than-average risk for developing diabetes, such as those who:

  • Have a parent or sibling with diabetes.
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have a family background that is African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Pacific Islander or American Indian. Native Americans are 2.5 times a likely to develop diabetes as the general population.
  • Have abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
  • Have high blood pressure.
  • Have sleep apnea.
  • Are physically inactive.
  • Have had gestational diabetes or had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more.
  • Are age 45 or older.

The more of these factors you have, the higher your diabetes risk. A simple screening test can tell you if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, which means your blood glucose is high enough to raise your risk for developing diabetes. Finding out now gives you a head start at delaying this condition, minimizing its serious complications or avoiding it altogether. In fact, the NDEP recommends that people age 45 and older consider being screened even if they have no other risk factors.

Ask your primary care physician about screening for diabetes. You can also learn more by visiting the NDEP website at ndep.nih.gov.