A total of 25.8 million children and adults in the United States—8.3 percent of the population—have diabetes, according to 2011 statistics from The American Diabetes Association.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and blindness in adults and thousands of people have suffered heart attacks or amputation of feet or legs due to diabetes. And a startling 79 million people have prediabetes, a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
This month, I had the privilege to speak with Dr. George C.K. Liu, president of the Chinese American Independent Practice Association (CAIPA), and a practicing Endocrinologist, to get more information about prediabetes.
Dr. Susan Beane: What is prediabetes?
Dr. George C.K. Liu: The most common way prediabetes is defined is if the hemoglobin A1C is between 5.7 to 6.4. Most [prediabetics] have no symptoms whatsoever. Some patients may experience mild hypoglycemia symptoms like they can’t concentrate, they are tired, they have cold sweats, and dizziness. Many of these symptoms are nonspecific, and that’s the reason that many people don’t know they have it.
Dr. Beane: Does having prediabetes necessary mean you’ll get Type 2 diabetes?
Dr. Liu: Diabetes can be delayed, but I don’t know for how long because prediabetes is a new condition. These people may eventually become diabetic, but can be delayed through behavior modification like eating better and exercising. That’s why I think it’s so important to have preventative care.
Dr. Beane: What are the biggest considerations when it comes to diabetes prevention?
Dr. Liu: I think the most important thing for diabetes prevention is diet and seeing a nutritionist and diabetic educator. It’s quite important, and it’s not that much money. Think about how much money you’re going to spend if you develop diabetes compared to a simple discussion with the dietician. It’s important to decrease your carbohydrate intake, and also watch your cholesterol to make sure it’s below 200 and ideally below 100. If a person is overweight, I try to get them to reduce their weight.
I agree with Dr. Liu. The good news is that prediabetes and diabetes can be managed and controlled with three main steps: eating foods that are low in fat, salt, sugar, and high in fiber; exercising at least three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes; and taking your diabetes medicine every day as your doctor advises.
Dr. Beane is vice president and medical director at Healthfirst.
For more tips on leading a healthier lifestyle, visit the Healthfirst website at www.healthfirst.org.