Preparation, prevention: Screening for prediabetes before it gets worse

31 October 2022

This Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re committed to helping you gain a better understanding of your health so you can take action. It is estimated that nearly 96 million U.S. adults have prediabetes, and more than 8 in 10 people do not realize they have it. Prediabetes, often reversible with healthy lifestyle changes, can cause health complications if left untreated or unmanaged. It can lead to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease (CKD), colorectal cancer (CRC) and more.

Let’s discuss how diabetes can affect your health if not caught early, some of the conditions it can increase your risk for, and how screening can help you and your healthcare provider take action to improve your health.

At greater risk: From pre-diabetes to diabetes

Prediabetes is when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Without taking action, many people with prediabetes go on to develop Type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions or diseases.

With Type 2 diabetes, your body cannot properly use insulin. You can be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at any age, but you are at higher risk if you:

  • Are age 45 or older
  • Are overweight
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Are not physically active
  • Are a woman who had or has gestational diabetes

Symptoms hide very early on, and some are mild at first, but prediabetes can worsen quickly if left undetected. Someone with diabetes is also at risk for even greater health problems, including liver disease and CKD.

Diabetes affects liver and kidney health

Left untreated, diabetes can ultimately damage your body’s essential functions. For instance, it can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), two debilitating diseases that can greatly affect your overall health. In both diseases, inflammation occurs from too much fat stored in the liver, and this can negatively impact the liver’s primary functions.

Moreover, diabetes can severely damage your kidneys and limit their ability to flush toxins from your body. The kidneys’ life-sustaining functions become much more challenging, resulting in major health complications. Diabetes is not only a major risk factor for CKD, it’s also one of the leading causes of kidney failure. And the unfortunate truth is every 24 hours, nearly 400 individuals in the U.S. begin treatment for kidney failure.

Early CKD often has no symptoms, and many people at risk for CKD in the U.S. do not get fully tested—this includes people with diabetes and/or high blood pressure. That’s why your healthcare providers encourage routine testing and screening. Catching prediabetes or diabetes early can also help you gain insight into your risk for other diseases, like CRC.

Diabetes and the link to colorectal cancer

Prediabetes and diabetes can affect your body’s ability to produce and release insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells of the pancreas and helps your body use sugar (glucose) for energy. Insulin acts like a key to let blood sugar into cells for use as energy and is normally released into the blood after your body’s glucose level rises. Researchers have found high levels of insulin to be associated with tumor cell growth.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. and worldwide. Several epidemiological studies have shown that individuals with Type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing CRC compared with those who are not diabetic.

If you’re 45 or older, it’s recommended to screen for CRC—and if you have diabetes, screening should begin earlier than 45.

Diabetes increases risk for heart disease and stroke

High blood sugar over time can damage the nerves and blood vessels in your eyes, heart and kidney.

In addition to direct heart damage, diabetes can also increase your risk for developing other health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. These conditions can result in hardened arteries, plaque buildup and damaged arterial walls. In fact, people with diabetes have nearly double the risk of heart attack and stroke compared to those without diabetes.

Most of these conditions don’t show symptoms, meaning regular checkups with your healthcare provider will be important to detect, monitor and treat developing heart conditions.

The best way to prevent diabetes-related heart disease? Preventing diabetes altogether or catching the condition early with routine screening.

Take action: Get screened

All adults should be screened with a test for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes starting at age 35. Catching prediabetes early through routine screening and testing enables you and your healthcare provider to take action and improve your health with lifestyle changes or treatment.

Additionally, testing for glucose and screening for CRC, combined with eGFR and uACR testing to learn more about your kidney function, are important to understanding your kidney health, cancer status and overall well-being. Our fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a CRC screening test that detects the presence of hidden blood in the stool and can be done in the comfort of your own home. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if a FIT test is a good option for you.

This Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re here—just like always—to help provide answers to your most important health questions.