Man getting ready for a1c test

The First Step in Reducing Your Diabetes Risk

Jul 20, 2023 Family Medicine Share:

Diabetes is a growing health concern that affects millions of people worldwide, and it's not just a risk for individuals who are overweight.

While weight is a risk factor, many people with diabetes may not even realize they have the condition until it has progressed. That's why it's essential to regularly screen for diabetes with your primary care doctor, just as you would for high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

By understanding more about your blood sugar and taking proactive steps to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, you can safeguard your health and enjoy a better quality of life.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

First, you need to know that there are two main types of diabetes. These are distinct conditions with unique causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body no longer produces insulin, a hormone necessary for regulating blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes typically develops in children and adolescents, although it can occur at any age.

On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes is a condition characterized by insulin resistance. This means that the body still produces insulin, but the cells cannot use it effectively to manage blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes usually develops later in life, often in middle-aged and older adults. However, due to lifestyle factors and rising obesity rates, there are higher rates of diagnosis in younger individuals as well.

The development of Type 2 diabetes is influenced by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to insulin resistance, while others may develop the condition due to age, diet, and lack of exercise.

Why is blood sugar so important? Blood sugar, or glucose, is the primary source of energy for the body's cells. When we consume food, our body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is then transported through the bloodstream to the cells. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, acts as a key that allows glucose to enter the cells and be used for energy. In individuals with Type 2 diabetes, this process is disrupted, leading to high blood sugar.

Just like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, the symptoms of diabetes can be subtle and may go unnoticed for years. Common symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurry vision, and slow-healing wounds. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to severe complications, such as heart disease, kidney damage, nerve damage, and vision problems.

Screening for Diabetes

Screening for diabetes is crucial for early detection and management of the condition. Identifying prediabetes or diabetes early allows you and your doctor to implement lifestyle changes or medications to help control your blood sugar levels and prevent or delay the onset of complications. Regular screenings can also help your primary care doctor monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan as needed.

One of the most common and reliable tests used to screen for diabetes is the Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) test.

HbA1C: What is it?

Hemoglobin A1C, also known as glycated hemoglobin, is a form of hemoglobin that is chemically linked to glucose. This test, commonly known as the A1C test, measures the percentage of glycated hemoglobin in your blood. This gives an average of your blood sugar levels over the past two to three months, making it an excellent tool for monitoring long-term blood sugar control and assessing your risk for developing diabetes.

Your primary care doctor may recommend an A1C test as part of your routine checkup, especially if you have risk factors for developing diabetes. The test may also be performed if you are experiencing symptoms that suggest high blood sugar levels. If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor will likely use the A1C test to monitor your blood sugar control and adjust your treatment plan as needed.

The A1C test is a simple blood test that can be performed in your doctor's office or at a laboratory. A small sample of blood will be drawn from your arm, and the results are usually available within a few days. At MedHelp, we can perform this test while you’re in the clinic for your appointment, so there’s no need for a second visit.

Interpreting your HbA1C test results

The A1C test measures the percentage of hemoglobin in your blood that has glucose attached to it. A higher percentage indicates that your blood sugar levels have been consistently elevated over the past few months.

  • Normal A1C: An A1C level below 5.7% is considered normal, indicating that your blood sugar levels have been within a healthy range.
  • Prediabetes: An A1C level between 5.7% and 6.4% suggests that you have prediabetes, which means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. At this stage, lifestyle changes can help prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes: An A1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate tests indicates that you have diabetes. Your doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes and pharmaceuticals to lower your overall blood sugar and reduce the risk of complications.

Your doctor will discuss the results of your A1C test with you and make recommendations based on your needs.

How to Lower Your A1C

If your A1C test results indicate that you have prediabetes or diabetes, it's important to take steps to lower your A1C levels and improve your blood sugar control. Lowering your A1C can help reduce your risk of developing complications associated with diabetes and improve your overall health.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to lower your A1C. Your primary care doctor will work with you to develop a doable plan that fits your specific needs. This plan may include lifestyle changes, pharmaceuticals, or a combination of both.

Your primary care doctor may recommend one or more of the following lifestyle changes to manage prediabetes or diabetes:

  • Improve your diet: A balanced diet that focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods can help regulate blood sugar levels. Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your meals while minimizing processed foods, added sugars, and unhealthy fats.
  • Exercise regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or swimming, and two sessions of strength training per week.
  • Lose weight if necessary: Carrying excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, can contribute to insulin resistance. Losing even a small amount of weight (5-10% of your body weight) can significantly improve blood sugar control and lower your A1C levels.
  • Manage stress: Chronic stress can negatively impact blood sugar levels and make it more challenging to maintain healthy habits. Incorporate stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises into your daily routine.
  • Monitor your blood sugar: Regularly checking your blood sugar levels can help you understand how different factors, such as food choices and exercise, affect your blood sugar control. This information can be valuable for making informed decisions about your diabetes management plan. Your primary care doctor may recommend a continuous glucose monitor or a glucometer that utilizes a finger prick.

In some cases, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to lower your A1C levels and achieve optimal blood sugar control. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend medications to help manage your diabetes. These medications can include:

  • Metformin: This is often the first medication prescribed for individuals with Type 2 diabetes. Metformin works by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and increasing insulin sensitivity in the muscles.
  • GLP-1 receptor agonists: These injectable medications mimic the action of a hormone called GLP-1, which stimulates insulin secretion and slows down the emptying of the stomach, helping to regulate blood sugar levels. These injections can also help individuals lose weight.
  • Insulin therapy: In some cases, individuals with Type 2 diabetes may require insulin injections to maintain optimal blood sugar control. Your doctor will determine the appropriate type and dosage of insulin based on your specific needs.

Regular screenings for diabetes and proactive management of your blood sugar levels can significantly impact your health and quality of life. By working closely with your primary care doctor, you can ensure that you receive the necessary screenings and guidance to effectively manage your risk for Type 2 diabetes.

At MedHelp, our primary care doctors are committed to providing comprehensive care and support to help you take control of your health. We are currently accepting new patients at all five of our locations in the Birmingham metro area. Don't wait – schedule an appointment today and take the first step toward a healthier future.

Staying up-to-date on your screenings?

You've got enough things to remember: let your primary care doctor keep up with the screenings you need. Your primary care doctor is your ally in better health and can help you stay up-to-date on screenings, tests, and vaccines. Primary care doctors at MedHelp are accepting new patients at all five MedHelp locations in Birmingham.