For many of us, November represents the Thanksgiving season. A time to gather with family and friends, perhaps watch a game of football and maybe eat a little too much. For the National Institutes of Health (NIH), November is National Diabetes Month. This year, the NIH is focusing on prediabetes and the prevention of diabetes.
What is prediabetes, you may wonder? It is a higher than normal blood sugar level that puts you at greater risk of developing diabetes. Why should you pay attention to this? It can lead to many other health problems and you can take steps to halt or slow the progression of diabetes.
The Centers for Disease Control notes that 88 million adults in the U.S. have prediabetes; that’s over a third of the population! And 7 million people in the U.S. do not even know that they are diabetic. The good news is that a simple blood test can determine if you are prediabetic and there are steps you can take to delay or even prevent becoming diabetic.
In addition to a higher than normal blood sugar level, a person with prediabetes may have an elevated hemoglobin A1C. Because this generally has no symptoms, it is important to see your primary care physician for annual checkups.
You may wonder if you are at risk. You are most at risk if you:
• Have a parent or sibling who has diabetes
• Are overweight, smoke, or 45 or older
• Had gestational diabetes (elevated blood sugar during pregnancy) or are the child of a mother who had gestational diabetes
• Are Black, Hispanic, Asian American or American Indian
It will take less than a minute to calculate your risk at www.diabetes.org/risk-test.
There are simple steps you can take to prevent becoming diabetic. And you guessed it, get up off the couch and move your body more, eat a healthy diet, swap that sugary drink for water or a low-calorie beverage, work toward a healthy weight and maintain it, and control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In some cases your doctor may prescribe medicines to help prevent Type 2 diabetes.
But so what if my blood sugar is high? Doesn’t that mean I am a sweet person? Maybe, but diabetes is associated with many health complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision loss, neuropathy and foot issues that can lead to amputation, to name just a few.
So this fall, whether you are rooting for the Bills or “dah Bears” on Thanksgiving day, go outside and toss the pigskin around with your guests. You will all likely benefit from the fresh air and exercise, possibly avoid doing the dishes and take that crucial first step to diabetes prevention.
Dr. Cassara is an endocrinologist at Lutheran Medical Center.