Screening first step in diabetes prevention

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Likely, you’ve heard how living a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk for diabetes. Yet, the first step to preventing diabetes is simply being tested. That way, you can catch any early signs of pre-diabetes and take action to stave off full-blown diabetes.

“A lot of people don’t know if they should get screened for Type 2 diabetes or not. The bottom line is that you should get screened if you have a first-degree relative with diabetes or you are a woman with a history of gestational diabetes. You should also get screened if you smoke, have cardiac conditions, are sedentary or are overweight — especially if you are older than 45,” said Tracey Wall, physician assistant with Memorial Regional Health’s Medical Clinic.

An effective screening test is the Hemoglobin A1c. It’s an easy test to get — no fasting is necessary — and it gives a snapshot of your sugar levels over time. It’s available during the March Into Health Event — held during March in preparation for the Community Health Fair on April 14 — for only $20 or through your provider at any time.

“The Hemoglobin A1c shows your average sugar levels over the last three months. We use this test for both screening and monitoring of diabetes,” Wall said.

Eating a healthy diet low in processed foods and sugars and high in whole grains and fruits and vegetables is an important next step if you learn your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be. Your provider will recommend dietary changes if your screening test shows pre-diabetes, which occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be called diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. At this stage, diet and exercise changes can really make a big difference.

The AHA refers to research that shows you can cut your risk for developing diabetes by more than half if you lose 7 percent of your body weight (7.5 pounds per 100 pounds of weight), and if you exercise moderately 30 minutes per day, five days per week.

“Weight loss is important if you are overweight, but studies show that, even without the weight loss, regular physical activity provides better long-term control of diabetes,” Wall said. “That means, even if you are thin, if you are sedentary, you could be at risk for developing diabetes.”

Wall likes to tailor lifestyle changes to fit her patients’ unique situations. Otherwise, she doesn’t see them lasting.

“The best way to make lasting changes is to find an activity or habit that will work for you. If you make a change that doesn’t fit your lifestyle, it won’t last,” she said.

Look at your day-to-day life, consider your finances, think about your interests and see what changes are most doable. Start there. For example, if your mornings are rushed before work and you only have 10 minutes to exercise, that’s OK. Do it, anyway, because you don’t have to get your 30 minutes per day in all at once.

“One tip I offer is the 7-minute workout app (on iTunes). It’s a mix of cardiovascular and weight resistance exercises that you can do anywhere, and you don’t need any special space or equipment to do it,” Wall said.

If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, Memorial Regional Health offers nutritional counseling with a dietician to get you on the right track with new eating habits — something that’s often covered by insurance.

If you think you are at risk for diabetes, reach out to your provider today and ask for a screening test. For an appointment with MRH’s Medical Clinic, call 970-826-2400.