According to the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics, about eight million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes and are unaware of it. And type 1 diabetes typically remains undiagnosed until symptoms are severe or hospitalization is required.
Oftentimes, people experience symptoms and chalk them up to stress or drowsiness. There are circumstances where a healthcare provider either misdiagnoses or completely misses diabetes, but most of those situations involve people who seem “too young” for diabetes.
It’s important to learn how to identify the symptoms and avoid any misdiagnoses in the future.
Symptoms of diabetes
Many people experience symptoms of type 1 diabetes such as increased thirst, increased urination, hunger and weakness but correlate them with other health concerns, like stress. However, type 1 diabetes symptoms are most commonly seen in children.
If type 1 diabetes is untreated, people experience severe nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of consciousness and even death. Type 1 diabetics need to maintain a strict diet and insulin treatment to avoid low blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes is harder to spot since most people do not suffer from severe symptoms; they experience fatigue, weight loss and no symptoms in some cases. Because symptoms occur late, doctors need to diagnose type 2 diabetes before it has significant damages.
Testing for diabetes
When diagnosing, doctors use three tests to screen for indicators of diabetes:
- A1C test – an exam that tests the average blood sugar level for the last two to three months. The normal level is under 5.7 percent, but someone who is pre-diabetic falls between 5.7 and 6.4 percent. Anything above a 6.5 percent indicates you have diabetes.
- Fasting blood sugar test– a blood sample is taken after a patient fasts overnight, and a level of 126 milligrams per deciliter is diabetes. A blood sugar level of 100 to 125 mg/dL means they’re at risk.
- Oral glucose tolerance test – a two-hour test that requires a patient to fast overnight, drink a sugary drink and receive a periodic blood sugar tests over the next couple hours.
Most doctors test blood glucose levels every three years or every two years for prediabetes. However, many health fairs offer diabetes tests, and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) hosts an online risk assessment tool.
It is crucial to identify diabetes quickly, especially for type 2 diabetes. The ADA recommends screenings for people who are over 45 years old, overweight or live a sedentary lifestyle and people of certain ethnicities who may be at greater risk.
Patients worried about diabetes can also seek out a diabetes specialist; they are trained to spot warnings for diabetes early on and start treatment immediately.
However, you can rely on a traditional physician if you ask questions and speak up about any symptoms you have. Communication is key to avoiding misdiagnoses.