DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I am a 42-year-old woman of Hispanic descent. At my annual physical, my clinician suggested I be screened for diabetes. I was surprised. My mother developed the condition late in life, but she had several other health conditions. I am about 20 pounds overweight, but I try to visit the gym twice per week and walk at least 15–30 minutes daily. What is the value of being screened now, and how do I reduce my risk of developing diabetes?
ANSWER: First, congratulations on being aware of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Daily physical activity can be a great way to build healthy habits that can serve you well as you age.
As far as the recommendation that you be screened for diabetes, the suggestion stems from the fact that diabetes is now being called a global health crisis. Type 2 diabetes is on the rise, and the chronic condition accounts for approximately 90%–95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Diabetes is a problem nationally and internationally, but it can affect some populations more than others. The condition is particularly prevalent among Hispanics, particularly in the U.S.
Hispanics living in the U.S. are 17% more likely to have Type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic white people, according to the CDC. And for those with Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage, the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes can be twice as much, compared to those with South American heritage.
It is interesting when you look at the differences in Type 2 diabetes risk among Hispanic subgroups. Of the many risk factors for diabetes, it is important to look at the differences among Hispanic subgroups related to Type 2 diabetes specifically. Screening early can help determine where you are in terms of your actual risk based on your heritage, lifestyle choices, family history and other factors.
Risk factors may include:
- Genetic factors.
- Environmental factors.
- An inactive or sedentary lifestyle.
Also, understanding your risk earlier in life means you can improve those factors to potentially reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes as you age.
Furthermore, screening opens a dialogue with your health care team and allows you to gain important knowledge and skills that may be necessary should you or a loved one be diagnosed with the condition in the future. Understanding how to better control diabetes and avoid the complications that often come with it are critical.
Complications from Type 2 diabetes can be serious if not managed.
When diabetes goes for a long time — and it is either undiagnosed or is not adequately treated — complications can come along with it. You can have increased risk for heart disease or kidney problems. You can develop problems with nerves and eyesight. It is important to identify diabetes and adequately treat and control it to avoid those complications.
Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes may include:
- Increased thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Increased hunger.
- Unintended weight loss.
Testing for diabetes can be as simple as a taking a blood test. It is usually diagnosed using fasting blood sugar levels or the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. While Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, it can be controlled and managed through weight loss, healthy eating, regular exercise, and medication or insulin therapy if needed. — Dr. Richard O. White, Community Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida