Diabetes is one of the world’s most serious and widespread health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30.3 million Americans currently have diabetes. Another 84.1 million have prediabetes, a condition that often leads to Type 2 diabetes if left untreated. That’s 114 million people in the United States alone who either have or are at risk of developing a disease that can cause serious damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nervous system. It also doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke.
There’s no cure for diabetes but it can be managed—if you know you have it. And millions of people don’t know (or aren’t sure) because diabetes doesn’t always present obvious symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get regular fasting blood glucose tests, which can help determine whether you have diabetes or are at risk of developing it.
Beyond scheduling the appointment with your doctor there isn’t much you need to do before your test. As you might expect from the “fasting” in the name, you can’t eat or drink anything except water for between 8 to 12 hours before your appointment, where a vial of blood will be drawn for analysis. This test measures the amount of glucose (or sugar) in your blood, and if you eat something it can skew your results. It’s best to schedule your test early in the morning and skip breakfast (just this once!) so you don’t have to go too long without eating.
This might not be the only test your doctor orders. Even if your fasting blood glucose levels are normal, you may need additional tests if you currently have risk factors like:
- A family history of diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Your “good” cholesterol is too low and your triglycerides are too high
- You’re overweight
And while diabetes doesn’t always come with obvious symptoms, there are warning signs that may lead your doctor to test you further:
- Increased thirst and/or hunger
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Cuts and sores that take a long time to heal
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Vision problems
If you have these risk factors your doctor may order a casual blood glucose test, which measures your blood sugar without fasting. Or you may be asked to take a glucose tolerance test, where you’ll be asked to drink an eight-ounce sugar solution and then have your blood tested two hours later. Both these tests help determine if you may have an impaired glucose tolerance that makes your blood sugar levels spike when you eat or drink something.
These simple tests can help you and your doctor understand your risk for diabetes. And the sooner you know that you have or may develop diabetes, the sooner you can begin treatment and make the lifestyle changes necessary to manage your disease.