According to a new government-sponsored panel of healthcare experts, several large clinical trials have produced enough evidence to support the statement that primary care physicians should screen all of their patients over the age of 45 for diabetes. These clinical trials have provided enough evidence, the panel states, to show that an early diagnosis of high blood sugar levels gives physicians time to work with their patients on lowering blood sugar levels, and ultimately reduces the risk of becoming diabetic and/or developing heart disease later on.
As explained by Boston Globe reporter Deborah Katz, these “moderately elevated” blood sugar levels are called “prediabetes,” and patients who altered their diet and exercise regimen had a 47% reduced risk of developing diabetes in the next few years.
This same panel offered recommendations about diabetes screenings back in 2008, but at that time, they recommended that doctors only screen for diabetes if the patients had high blood pressure, and would be at a greater risk of developing heart disease. This panel has noted that in 2008, there wasn’t enough evidence from clinical studies to advise doctors to screen everyone over 45 years of age.
The 2014 panel also notes that certain groups are at greater risk for developing diabetes, and should be screened before turning 45; these groups include people who are overweight, or who have a family history of diabetes, or are African-American, Latino, or Asian.
This new recommendation is supported by other medical groups that focus on diabetes; both the American Diabetes Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that all patients over 45 should be screened for diabetes, regardless of past health conditions. The screening process is fairly simple, and there are a few different ways that blood glucose can be measured.
“Before screening can even occur, there are obstacles patients need to overcome. Insurance companies have gotten to the point where they don’t want to pay for preventative care — they will only pay for you if you are symptomatic,” says Terri Porter, Clinic Administrator at Doctors Express Phoenix. “Screening is a great concept and process, but patients need to be their own advocate first and request that their insurance companies pay for these things as part of their premium.”
Ultimately, early detection of high blood sugar levels is the key to developing a healthy lifestyle that will reduce the risk of becoming diabetic. This conclusion shouldn’t be surprising; when it comes to managing one’s health, even the smallest preventative measures have been shown to provide long-term benefits (like the study from July 2014, which showed that running for just five minutes per day could significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease).
Although the recent recommendation is directed toward primary care physicians, it’s something that everyone should keep in mind. Many Americans cannot afford to see a primary care doctor on a regular basis, but tests like diabetes screenings are fairly affordable. If someone suspects that their blood sugar levels or blood pressure may be off, it never hurts to consult a medical professional, so that preventative measures can be taken as quickly as possible.