PhotoMillions of people have diabetes and almost all of them first had a condition known as pre-diabetes.

Now, federal medical researchers have discovered a simple tool to alert doctors that a patient is at risk for pre-diabetes and on the path to the full disease.

The tool is simple and costs nothing. A patient is administered an oral glucose tolerance test and the time it takes to reach maximum sugar level is recorded. Those who take longer to reach that maximum threshold are at greater risk of pre-diabetes, the researchers found.

“Our research may help clinicians and public health officials guide patients to better and more cost-effective decisions about risk for pre-diabetes” said Stephanie Chung, M.B.B.S., the study’s first author and an assistant clinical investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The implications

The implications are fairly clear. By giving the glucose test and noting the time to reach maximum levels, doctors can get a heads-up that the patient is at risk for developing pre-diabetes, placing them at even greater risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Simply put, having pre-diabetes means your blood sugar level is higher than normal but not yet high enough to be type-2 diabetes. It's not a given that pre-diabetes turns into full-blown type-2 diabetes, but it happens a lot.

However, with significant lifestyle changes – eating a nutritious diet and getting plenty of exercise – a patient can return his or her blood glucose levels to normal. In fact, there have been cases where people with type-2 diabetes have actually reversed the disease with radical lifestyle changes.

Early damage

However, the Mayo Clinic warns that if you have developed pre-diabetes, you may already be suffering the long-term damage of diabetes.

Unfortunately, pre-diabetes has no obvious symptoms. However, Mayo Clinic doctors say subtle signs include darkening skin in certain parts of the body. You may be at risk for pre-diabetes if you are overweight, eat an unhealthy diet, and get little exercise.

Type-2 diabetes is a serious condition. It's triggered when your body starts having trouble using insulin, which transports glucose into cells. When that happens you are at risk of building up too much glucose in your blood.

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