When should you get tested for diabetes?

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Updated screening recommendations for Type 2 diabetes suggests your doctor start testing you at a younger age.

The USPSTF, which stands for the United States Preventive Services Task Force, released a recommendation this month which states the screening age for overweight and obese Americans should be lowered from 40 to 35.

The idea behind screening people five years earlier is that doctors can catch many people in a prediabetic state and help them make lifestyle changes (like nutrition and exercise) before they are diagnosed as full-on diabetics.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a simple disease to explain. It’s where your blood sugar levels are higher than your body can process. Foods and drinks you consume contain sugars and other materials (like fats and other carbohydrates), which your body processes into one particular type of sugar, called glucose.

Glucose is an important part of how your body functions - our cells burn it as a basic source of energy in the same way a car burns gasoline. An important tool our body uses in order to burn glucose is a hormone called insulin. A more-scientific way of describing diabetes is when your body doesn’t have enough insulin to process all of the sugar in your blood. This is where the distinction between type 1 and type 2 diabetes comes into play, because one is where your body doesn’t produce insulin, and the other is where your body doesn’t make or use insulin well enough to process all of the sugars your body has.

What is type 1 diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, also known as “insulin-dependent diabetes” or “juvenile diabetes”, your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. This most-often is found at a younger age, but can really happen at any time in your life. Your body can’t make insulin so it can’t process glucose, and therefore can’t process through the buildup of glucose in your blood. Type 1 diabetes is managed through the injection of insulin and the close management of blood sugar levels.

What is type 2 diabetes?

For type 2 diabetes, your pancreas does create insulin, but can’t produce enough of it or use it efficiently enough to process the glucose in your blood. One of the most common scenarios is hyperinsulinemia - a point where the level of insulin your body is much higher than normal because your body is trying to process the excess of glucose you’re feeding it. With these elevated levels of insulin, your body is no longer using it efficiently and is considered insulin resistant.

Insulin resistance can also be caused by natural factors, although insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and type 2 diabetes, in the United States, are much more likely to be caused by poor health, bad nutrition, and a lack of exercise.

How common is diabetes?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it’s estimated about 34 million people in the United States, about 13% of the population, have diabetes. The changes to guidance for screening of obese and overweight individuals should have a significant impact on decreasing the number of people eventually developing diabetes, as about 35% of Americans are estimated to be prediabetic.

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