Life Saving Tests For Diabetics

Every hour, 112 Americans are diagnosed with diabetes. Today, 17 million Americans are living with the disease.

Diabetes Specialist Richard Jackson, M.D., of Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, tells Ivanhoe, "We also think that there's maybe an equal or almost that large a number of people who have but don't know they have it yet."

Diabetes is one disease with many complications.

Nerve damage is just one. "It increases your chance of eye problems, of kidney problems, heart attack and strokes," says Dr. Jackson.

He says there are five tests every person with diabetes should have at least once a year.

Test one: Hemoglobin A1C, which reflects a patient's average blood sugar level for the previous three months.

Dr. Jackson says, "All the bench research that we do tells us that's the test that most accurately tells you if you are going to have a higher or lower risk of future problems." He says, however, many patients have never heard of the test.

Test two: Blood pressure. Dr. Jackson says blood pressure should be no higher than 130 over 80, even when people are stressed. Every 10-point drop in the top number of your reading can mean up to a 14-percent decrease in complications.

Test three: Cholesterol.

LDL, or bad, cholesterol, should be under 100. HDL should be above 45. Triglycerides should be under 200.

Test four: Microalbumin, which detects early signs of kidney disease.

Test five is an eye exam. Annual exams detect damage early and allow for vision-saving treatment.

Dr. Jackson says, "If diabetes patients know where they stand in each of those five areas, then they'll know, 'Is it working out, or gee, I'm not doing so well.'"

You cannot always rely on doctors. Here's why: According to a recent survey of family doctors done by the Washington Hospital Center, Washington, D.C., although nearly 90 percent listed the A1C test as important for diabetics, only 24 percent listed cholesterol as important, and less than 5 percent listed blood pressure important.

Dr. Jackson warns diabetes patients, "You don't want to say, 'Gee, no one told me I should do this.'"

Diabetic Louis Newman tells Ivanhoe, "If you don't take care of yourself, nobody is going to do it for you." "It's not the end of the world. It's manageable," says diabetic Lillie Davis.

And diabetic Iris Larssen says, "Work with your doctor. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you work together." Good advice from patients who have been there.

The A1C test should be done every three months. Doctors say the other tests can be taken every six months to a year.