Symptoms of Undiagnosed Diabetes
There’s little debate about whether diabetes is a growing problem in the United States and, in fact, around the globe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currently about 1 of out every 10 adult Americans (18 and over) are living with diabetes, and the trend is continuing to rise. In 2021, it was pointed out the cases of diabetes have doubled in the last 15 years alone.
New estimates from the CDC, expect these numbers to rise sharply over the next 40 years with a prediction that by 2050 (closer than it seems), 1 out of every three adults living in the United States will have diabetes. These numbers jibe with the International Diabetes Foundation, which believes that its 2010 diabetes numbers around the world, roughly 285 million people, will jump to an alarming 438 million people by 2030 – that’s right around the corner.
It's clear that instances of diabetes are on the rise, and one of the most troublesome facts is that the CDC and others have estimated that 20-30% of these cases go undiagnosed. But is this entirely accurate?
A new study published in the July 11, 2022 issue of Diabetes Care and conducted by researchers at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, just might have an additional explanation for the rise in diabetes cases beyond the widely accepted growing number of people living with risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, unhealthy diet and inactivity.
Is the rise in diabetes partly due to improved diagnosing?
Findings from this recent study point to the fact that medicine just might be getting better at screening for diabetes. The study used government health survey data covering thousands of people over a period of more than 30 years. Researchers used the same two-test criteria doctors use to screen for diabetes and found that about only 9.5% of the total diabetes burden was undiagnosed. That’s a sharp contrast (less than half!) when compared to the 20-30% estimated by the government and healthcare agencies.
“Our findings suggest that the true figure (for undiagnosed diabetes) is much lower and that providers in the U.S. are doing a good job overall with diabetes screening and diagnosis,” stated Elizabeth Selvin, PhD and professor at the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology, and senior author of the study.
Being that diabetes is widely considered one of the world’s top public health issues, improving diagnoses is a big step forward. However, there is still reason for concern when it comes to undiagnosed cases.
The reality is certain populations are being missed.
While data from the study indicates that the medical community is doing a better job screening and diagnosing individuals with diabetes, there are still communities being left out. The study numbers also indicate that undiagnosed diabetes is more prevalent in older adults, obese adults, and certain racial/ethnic minorities, most notably Mexican Americans and Asian Americans.
The sad truth is individuals who don’t have proper access to healthcare services are more likely to go undiagnosed. According to the study, subjects who reported an interval of more than one year since their last health care visit also had a high estimated prevalence of confirmed undiagnosed diabetes.
“It’s a real concern that certain populations are being missed by the health care system, “says Michael Fang, PhD, and assistant professor at the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. “This is likely a major reason why undiagnosed diabetes remains high in these groups.”
The 3 most common symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes
The symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes are essentially the symptoms associated with the development of diabetes. However, because Type 2 diabetes progresses gradually, not all symptoms may be prevalent even in someone who has gone undiagnosed. The three most common symptoms to look for are:
- Excessive thirst happens because the kidney’s begin flushing excess fluids to wash out the excess glucose (sugar) that has accumulated in the blood due to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
- Frequent urination is also due to the body’s effort to eliminate excess blood sugar. It’s important to note that those who consume large amounts of water can also feel the need to go more frequently. However, if you are constantly needing to urinate, even during the night when you’re not drinking a lot of fluids, it might be a warning sign for diabetes.
- Extreme fatigue or feelings of exhaustion are also common symptoms of diabetes. Again, this goes beyond feeling tired after a long, hard day or one full of physical activity. If you’re getting adequate sleep, eating regularly and still feel tired during the day, it could be an indicator that something is not quite right.
Other symptoms of diabetes include unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, numbness and tingling in the feet or hands, skin tags, irritability, and wounds that are slow to heal. If you experience any of the above signs, particularly if you are overweight, inactive, smoke, or have a family history of diabetes, ask your doctor about being screened for diabetes. It can be done with a simple blood test at your physician’s office.
Diagnosis is key to avoiding serious complications
Diabetes, while highly manageable these days thanks to proper blood sugar testing and treatment, is a very serious medical condition. In fact, according to the CDC, diabetes is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Being diagnosed is the first step to avoiding serious diabetes-related health complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), vision loss and other medical concerns. Often, more than one diabetes-related complication will present itself when the disease is left untreated (usually due to a person being undiagnosed). This is why being diagnosed early and beginning a doctor-approved treatment plan ASAP are so important.
When this doesn’t happen, diabetes can lead to complications that dramatically reduce a person’s quality of life and, in severe cases, can lead to death.
It’s a hopeful sign that the health care system may be getting better at properly screening for diabetes. This, however, does not change the fact that far too many people with the disease continue to go undiagnosed. At the end of the day, the responsibility falls on the individual. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of diabetes, particularly if you also have any of the added risk factors, such as being overweight and inactive, please see your doctor ASAP and ask about a diabetes blood test. The sooner you’re diagnosed, the sooner you can begin treatment, get your blood sugar under control, and stave off those more serious health complications.
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