Medical Moment: Lowering the screening age for diabetes

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 5:45 PM EST
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November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, and it also contributes to kidney failure, poor circulation and potentially, limb amputation. Now a national panel of experts in disease prevention has looked at recent clinical findings, and is changing the screening guidelines.

160-million Americans are overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The US Preventive Service Task Force has now lowered the recommended age for first screening in overweight and obese adults from age 40 to age 35.

“Basically, we do blood draw,” says endocrinologist Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis at Cleveland Clinic. “And we look for what’s called a fasting glucose. We also check a hemoglobin A1C test, which is a marker of your blood sugar over a three-month period of time.”

People with diabetes sometimes have excessive thirst, fatigue, and weight loss. But sometimes, they have no symptoms.

The new recommendations also address prediabetes, higher than normal blood sugar, that has not progressed to diabetes, yet. Prediabetes can increase your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“We do know that about 24 percent of people who are aged 18 to 44 have prediabetes,” says Kellis. “So, it’s conceivable that by screening these people earlier, we’ll be catching this earlier, especially when some people don’t have symptoms.”

Dr. Kellis says lifestyle changes -- starting with losing seven to ten percent of a person’s body weight -- could help people with prediabetes bring their blood sugar levels into a normal range, and reduce the risk of diabetes by 58%.

She adds that according to one new study, between 2001 and 2017, the risk of diabetes in people aged 19 and younger nearly doubled. She says the increase of diabetes not only in adults, but in a much younger population underscores the need for early screening and intervention.

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