Getting diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can come as a real shock—it’s scary to hear that you have a lifelong health problem to deal with. It’s important to remember that a diagnosis isn’t necessarily a death sentence. Type 2 diabetes is a manageable condition. In fact, a diagnosis is a good thing: it means you now know what you can do to get healthier. But type 2 diabetes does require change and a commitment to living a healthier lifestyle.
Out-of-control type 2 diabetes can cause severe complications inside your body. With type 2 diabetes, your body’s cells cannot get the fuel they need to function, and without enough fuel, your body will start breaking down other tissue such as fat and muscle. You will become very tired and very dehydrated, resulting in blurred vision, increased urination, and confusion. As your body continues to break down, it becomes very susceptible to infections, and any existing wounds won’t heal. If untreated at this point, it is even possible that you may develop severe, life-threatening illnesses.
For example, diabetics are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Sugar can build up in your distant capillaries, leading to nerve damage. These can also damage your eyes, leading to blindness. With diabetes being the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, this disease is nothing to ignore.
How Doctors Diagnose Type 2 Diabetes
There are a few methods that your doctor can use to verify your type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
First, there is the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test tells your doctor what your average blood sugar level is for the past two to three months. It measures the percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin, which is the oxygen-carrying protein in your red blood cells. Higher blood sugar levels indicate more hemoglobin with sugar attached. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two different tests indicates that you are diabetic. A result between 5.7-6.4 percent indicates prediabetes, and normal levels are those below 5.7 percent.
Random (Non-Fasting) Blood Glucose Test
The A1C test is the most common, but if you are pregnant or have a hemoglobin variant, your doctor may opt to use a different test. A random blood sugar test is a test in which a sample of your blood is taken at some random time. Your blood sugar values are expressed in millimoles per liter (mmol/L) or milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). No matter when you last ate, a random blood sugar test that indicates a level of 11.1 mmol/L (200 mg/dL) or above suggests that you are diabetic, especially if you already have some symptoms of diabetes. A blood sugar level between 7.8 mmol/L (140 mg/dL) and 11.0 mmol/L (199 mg/dL) indicates prediabetes, and a normal level is one that is less than 7.8 mmol/L (140 mg/dL).
Fasting Glucose Test
Your doctor may also opt for a fasting blood sugar test. In this case, a sample of your blood will be taken after you have fasted overnight. A normal fasting blood sugar level is less than 5.6 mmol/L (100 mg/dL). A fasting blood sugar level from 5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L (100 to 125 mg/dL) indicates prediabetes. If your test shows a level of 7 mmol/L (126 mg/dL) or above on two different tests, you have type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test
Then there is the oral glucose tolerance test, which also requires you to fast overnight and take a fasting blood sugar test. The doctor will then have you drink a sugary liquid, and then he or she will test your blood sugar levels periodically over the course of several hours. A normal blood sugar level is less than 7.8 mmol/L (140 mg/dL). If after two hours you get a reading greater than 11.1 mmol/L (200 mg/dL), then you are diabetic. A reading between 7.8 mmol/L and 11.0 mmol/L (140 and 199 mg/dL) indicates that you have prediabetes.
Getting a Second Opinion
By all means, get a second opinion if you have any concerns or doubts about your diagnosis. Remember that you don’t have to share the first doctor’s name with your new doctor. And your health is exactly that—your health. Don’t feel intimidated; you have every right to a second opinion. What you don’t want to do is ignore your suspicions and get treated for diabetes that you don’t have, which can lead to further complications.
The Next Steps
Finally, your diabetes diagnosis means that you must follow through on your monitoring and medical appointments. Getting your blood tested and tracking your symptoms are important steps to ensure long-term health. As a diabetic, you will have an array of doctors from a podiatrist to an endocrinologist checking in on your health. But remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own health. With diabetes, it’s possible to live a long, fulfilling life—but you have to make that happen with a commitment to getting better.