Should You Get Your Blood Sugar Levels Checked?

A recent report suggests you probably don't need annual physicals, but you may want to make an exception for a blood sugar test.


Although regular checkups are a good way to forge a relationship with your physician and spot early signs of disease, a recent study suggests that it’s not really necessary. The new guidelines, according to Duke University Health System, recommend that people under age 30 get a physical every two to three years, that those 30 to 40 to see a doc every other year, and that those age 50 and up get check-ups annually. Here’s an important consideration, however. Cases of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and pre-diabetes are skyrocketing across the United States, so you might want to get your blood sugar checked on the regular, even if you don’t get a full work-up at the doctor’s office.

Diabetes, a disease in which you have a fasting blood sugar level of 126 or higher, affects over 29 million Americans, with some 8 million cases going undiagnosed. Unfortunately, this chronic condition can cause brutal effects on the body, including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, vision conditions (cataracts and glaucoma), skin conditions, hearing impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. (Read more about diabetes complications and how to avoid them.) It can ultimately be fatal, ranking as the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. So if you have diabetes, you’ll want to know—so you can keep your blood sugar under control and avoid the most devastating effects of the disease. Risk factors for diabetes include being overweight, family history, race, high blood pressure, and having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It’s also a good idea to pay attention to these silent diabetes symptoms.

In type 1 diabetes, which typically develops during childhood or adolescence, the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells within the pancreas, leaving little or no insulin. Insulin is what allows the body to use food for energy. Those who have type 1 diabetes need to check their blood sugar levels four to eight times daily, sometimes before meals and snacks, exercise, before bed, and occasionally during the night, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Far more common than type 1 diabetes is type 2 diabetes, where your body does not use insulin properly. At the onset, the body struggles to make extra insulin to compensate, but the demand eventually becomes too much and the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to keep blood glucose sugar levels within a normal range. If you have type 2 diabetes, your physician will give you a specific management program that likely includes exercise, dietary changes, and/or medications to curtail sugar spikes and dips. You will also be asked to test your blood sugar two or more times daily, before meals, and sometimes before bed.

A newer phenomenon is the rise of prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are elevated but still lower than they would be with full-blown type 2 diabetes. The condition, affecting more than a third of U.S. adults, should serve as a wake-up call to get healthy with a more whole foods diet and exercise, and in some cases, a drug called Metformin. About 90 percent of people with prediabetes don’t realize they have it, according to University of Florida findings, and about 15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will go on to develop diabetes within five years, according to Arch G. Mainous III, PhD, chair of the department of health services research, management and policy in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions.

You may not be eager to get a blood test—most people aren’t, but knowing your numbers could just save your life.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest