Nearly 45% Of Younger Americans Have This Silent Health Risk


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One in 10 American adults has diabetes mellitus. In some ways, we’re taking better care of treatment for the chronic condition, but in other ways, we’re in need of major improvements.

According to a report released Tuesday morning by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, 90 percent of adults with diagnosed diabetes had seen a doctor within the previous six months. Good sign.

On the flip side, numbers indicates that this better care of diabetes symptoms correlates with increasing age: The youngest group of patients (ages 18-39) had not paid nearly enough as much attention to blood pressure and cholesterol levels as the older group; 89.9 percent had taken a blood pressure reading in the previous year, and just 71.9 percent had gotten cholesterol stats.

Gerald Bernstein, MD, FACP, director of the Diabetes Management Program at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, says that this is an area in which we need to do better, as monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol can help minimize risk of heart attack, stroke and other diseases — especially among the youngest group of diabetes sufferers, who have more years of risk ahead of them.

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Bernstein also says that the CDC report is “just the tip of the iceberg,” not accounting for the millions of Americans who are currently living with prediabetes. Left untreated, in a decade or less, it’s likely to turn into diabetes. 

Here’s what you need to know about this condition.

You’re born with risk, which increases with age.

First, a little background. From the moment of birth, people encounter health risks and hazards. Specifically for diabetes, the question is, are factors going to arise that affect insulin production? Namely: obesity, increasing age, and waist circumference.

The closer to clinically healthy you can remain — maintaining normal weight, normal physical activity level, normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels — the lower your risk of developing diabetes.

However, in a culture of obesity and sedentary lifestyle, trivial risk can become real risk quickly. “The first time this happens is when the body does not respond to a glucose challenge,” Bernstein tells Yahoo Health. “When your blood glucose level spikes after a meal, higher than it should, over 140 — and suddenly, you’re looking at prediabetes.”

Prediabetes is remarkably common.

Prediabetes is the gray area between normal and diabetic; it’s a reading between 140 and 199 two hours after eating (impaired glucose intolerance), or a reading between 100 and 125 if you’re taking a reading overnight (impaired fasting glucose). Anything higher is considered diabetes.

After you eat, insulin is dumped into the bloodstream by the pancreas to help the body absorb and utilize glucose from your meal. If you have prediabetes, this system starts to malfunction and sugar builds up in the bloodstream as insulin is unable to neutralize it.

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How many people straddle this fine line? “Based on CDC data, 40 to 45 percent of the country has prediabetes,” says Bernstein. “And that’s 140 to 150 million people.” Even at this stage of the game, before full-blown diabetes, you’re at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

The only “symptom” is a high reading.

The other scary factor about prediabetes is how silent it is. Bernstein says there are really no clear symptoms of the breakdown going on in the body. “It’s purely a number,” he says.

There are a few tests for blood glucose level, administered by docs. In a fasting blood sugar test, you won’t eat for eight hours or overnight before giving a blood sample to check the level of sugar in your blood. In an oral glucose tolerance test, you’ll have blood sugar taken, drink a sugar-laden solution, and then have a second test in two hours.

A newer test, though, might be the new gold standard. The Hemoglobin A1-C is a simple blood test that measures average blood-sugar level over the past three or four months. A normal reading is 5.6 percent or less, prediabetes is 5.7 to 6.4 and diabetes is 6.5 percent or higher. “It’s the most efficient way to test, and it might be the most valuable, especially because it’s not related to fasting,” says Bernstein. “There is a convenience factor.”

Bernstein says more doctors are using the A1C test regularly, but that everyone should be screened — especially those who have risk factors like obesity, sedentary lifestyle, family history of diabetes. “By 12 to 15 years old or so, you should at least have an A1-C as a baseline,” he says.

In 30 years, we could see a nationwide or worldwide healthcare crisis.

Diabetes is a growing epidemic, and prediabetes is an even more prevalent crisis. “About 20 years ago, we really did nothing for this,” Bernstein says. “Now we’re worried because of the sheer numbers.”

In 20 years, he says the nation might have a major problem on its hands. “All these people under the age of 30 with prediabetes will have their first vascular event,” Bernstein says. “It might be a heart attack, it might be a stroke” — unless we take steps to prevent prediabetes from turning into the real deal.

First, monitor your numbers. Get an A1C test if you haven’t had one. Also, track other vital stats. Bernstein points to numbers from the current CDC report as a place to start. “In this younger group, relatively few paid attention to blood pressure or cholesterol levels,” he says, noting that these contribute to insulin resistance when paired with obesity. “Control those over time, and you reduce your risk at a number of levels.”

Beyond that, data shows that the golden rules of health may also be the keys to staving off diabetes and getting blood sugar back in check: Maintain a balanced diet, get regular exercise and keep weight in a normal range.

It’s not always easy to ignore fatty food and go for a run, but we do know it’s the prescription to longevity — in which case, it’s worth it.

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