1 in 7 Americans at Risk for Diabetes
As many as a third of American adults with type 2 diabetes don’t even know they have the disease, according to alarming new findings from the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.
Even more disheartening, one in three adults in the U.S. either has diabetes or a pre-diabetes condition known as impaired glucose tolerance.
That means that 23 million Americans have the disease or are on their way to getting it, says Catherine Cowie, PhD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
"We knew that there had been an increase in diagnosed cases [of type 2 diabetes]," Cowie tells WebMD. "The hope was that this rise would be counterbalanced by a decline in undiagnosed cases. But that is not what we are seeing."
Ethnic Groups Most at Risk Cowie and colleagues analyzed data from a national survey collected between 1999 and 2002, and compared them to data collected between 1988 and 1994. Participants were asked if they had diabetes, and they were given fasting blood tests to confirm the diagnosis, identify new cases, and identify people with the pre-diabetes condition.
Among the survey’s main findings:
Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 95% of all diabetes cases, and virtually all undiagnosed cases of the disease. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes; age, family history, and sedentary lifestyle also contribute to risk.
Diabetes is the most common cause of blindness, kidney failure, and amputations among adults in the U.S. It is also a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Pre-diabetes Not Benign
The analyzed data were taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. NHANES is the only national health survey to examine both diagnosed diabetes and undiagnosed disease, confirmed by physical exams that include blood glucose testing.
Over the years studied, roughly 26% of adults in the U.S. had impaired fasting glucose, meaning that blood sugar levels were higher than normal after an overnight fast, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. This condition is also known as impaired glucose tolerance and pre-diabetes.
The pre-diabetes condition has no symptoms, but Cowie points out that it is far from benign.
"These people have a very high risk of developing diabetes within a decade, and even if they don’t they are still at high risk for having a heart attack or stroke," she says.
Positive lifestyle changes can often prevent or delay the onset of diabetes in people with pre-diabetes. Study after study has shown that losing modest amounts of weight and getting even a moderate amount of exercise on a daily basis can make a big difference.
"Even doing something simple like walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week can lower risk," she says.
SOURCES: Cowie, C.C. Diabetes Care, Catherine C. Cowie, PhD, director, Diabetes Epidemiology Program, NIDDK. Charles M. Clark, MD, professor of medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine; chairman emeritus, NIDDK National Diabetes Education Program.
Copyright Jewish Diabetes Association. Last updated June 2017©