Diabetes Alert Day 2021: Understanding Your Risk, Lifestyle Factors and Prevention

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March 23, 2021


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The numbers are startling: about 88 million American adults — or 1 in 3 — have prediabetes, which is when a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. 

Prediabetes is warning sign the body gives you — if you stick to regular checkups with your primary care physician. Another startling figure: More than 80 percent of people with prediabetes don’t know they have it, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And that is the most concerning statistic because the sooner you know you’re at risk, the sooner you can take steps to manage prediabetes and prevent a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, many patients who are prediabetic don’t understand the importance of proper nutrition, regular exercise and weight management until they are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, explains Heberto Valdes, M.D., a board-certified endocrinologist at Baptist Health South Florida.

“They respond in regards to lifestyle modifications when they are newly diagnosed,” says Dr. Valdes. “A patient that is told they have diabetes, that often comes as shocking news. So, they say: ‘I’m going to start taking care of myself.’ Most of the time, those are the patients that make the drastic, necessary modifications.”

The fourth Tuesday of every March is designated as Diabetes Alert Day — March 23 this year — by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). The ADA encourages everyone to take an online test and answer seven brief questions. At the end, you are given a number from 1 to 10 to determine your risk level, 10 being the highest. Diabetes affects about 34.2 million Americans or about 10.5 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 1 in 5 adults living with diabetes, or 7.3 million Americans, are unaware that they have the disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Insulin allows blood sugar (glucose) to enter cells, where it can be used for energy. When the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t use it effectively, blood sugar builds up in the blood. People diagnosed with diabetes are at increased risk of serious health complications including premature death, vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and even amputation of toes, feet, or legs.

Diabetes is a serious disease that can often be managed through regular physical activity, healthy eating habits, weight management, and the appropriate use of insulin and other medications to control blood sugar levels — if lifestyle modifications are not working.

Aldo Ribeiros Jr., M.D., an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care, says he hopes that people don’t put off their regular checkups with their primary care physician, particularly if a person is at high risk for diabetes.

“The main message I want people to take away from Diabetes Alert Day is that early detection is key to the prevention of prediabetes to diabetes,” explains Dr. Ribeiros. “If lifestyle changes are implemented early, the progression to diabetes can hopefully be avoided and in turn mitigate the overwhelming clinical and public health burden it continues to cause.”

Blood Sugar Levels

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests the following “targets for most nonpregnant adults with diabetes.” The A1C targets vary according to age and the health of the patient. Also, more or less stringent glycemic goals may be appropriate for each individual. The A1C is a common blood test used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. It can be done during regular blood-work checkups by your primary care physician or by an endocrinologist to keep track a patient’s progress in controlling diabetes. 

ADA suggested targets:

  • A1C: Less than 7% (A1C may also be reported as eAG: Less than 154 mg/dL)
  • Before a meal (preprandial plasma glucose): 80–130 mg/dL
  • 1-2 hours after beginning of the meal (postprandial plasma glucose): Less than 180 mg/dL

Who is at Risk for Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes?

If you have these risk factors, you may be at higher risk than others for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • You are overweight.
  • You are 45 years of age or older.
  • Your parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
  • You are physically active fewer than 3 times per week.
  • You ever gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds.
  • You ever had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes).

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