All About Diabetes Screening

Keeping tabs on your blood sugar could save your life

Medically reviewed in August 2021

When was the last time you had your blood sugar checked? Even if you feel pretty healthy, skipping out on regular screenings is a risky move. You could have high blood sugar and not even know it. In fact, one-third of the people who have diabetes aren't aware of it. And that means missing out on the opportunity to control it and reduce the risk of complications.

But with blood sugar monitoring, you get a window into where you stand. You may have the chance to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes—or treat the condition properly if you have it. And the only way to know what course of action you should be taking is to keep tabs on your blood sugar.

Factors That Affect Screening
Our blood sugar tends to creep up as we age, so doctors generally recommend testing every 3 years, starting at age 45. However, if you are overweight or obese and have one of the diabetes risk factors below, you should be tested earlier and more frequently:

  • A sedentary lifestyle: Sitting all day—be it on the couch or at a desk—will increase your risk for diabetes, unless you counter your inactivity with regular exercise.

  • A family history of diabetes: If you have a sibling or parent with diabetes, you are at greater risk for it, too.

  • Certain ethnic backgrounds: Compared with other ethnic groups, African Americans, Alaska Natives, American Indians, Hispanics/Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans are at increased risk for diabetes.

  • A history of specific health problems: If your blood pressure is at or above 140/90 mm Hg, if you have unhealthy cholesterol values, if you have cardiovascular disease, or if you've previously tested positive for high blood sugar, you're at increased risk of diabetes. And if you are a woman, gestational diabetes or polycystic ovary disease raises your risk as well.

  • Any symptoms that might indicate diabetes: If you notice a dramatic increase in urination, hunger, thirst, or fatigue—or sudden unexplained weight loss or vision changes—call your doctor immediately, and schedule a blood sugar test.

Choosing a Test
Your healthcare provider may recommend one or more tests, depending on your personal diabetes risk factors. And how you prepare for the screening will depend on your test, so follow your healthcare provider's instructions. 

What Your Numbers Mean
When all is said and done, be sure your doctor completely explains what your test results mean. Here is a breakdown of what the numbers might indicate with a fasting plasma glucose test, which is one type of blood sugar test:

  • Normal: Blood sugar below 100 mg/dL
  • Prediabetes: Blood sugar between 100 and 125 mg/dL
  • Diabetes: Blood sugar of 126 mg/dL or higher

Getting Lower
If you test positive for prediabetes, take heart. You don't have diabetes—not yet. But you're at greater risk for it. And you have the opportunity to get your blood sugar levels under control and avoid type 2 diabetes altogether. (This article will explain the steps to reversing prediabetes.)

And if your test indicates type 2 diabetes, lifestyle changes and medications can help you manage the condition and avoid complications. (Find out what types of foods may help balance your blood sugar.)

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