Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body’s ability to either produce or use insulin. Insulin is a hormone which regulates sugar (glucose) in our bloodstream. Without insulin, our body can’t properly store sugar or use it for energy.

Untreated diabetes results in high blood sugar (blood glucose), which can damage blood vessels and nerves over time.

This can cause a variety of symptoms and serious health complications, including:

  • difficulty seeing
  • tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
  • increased risk for a heart attack or stroke

Receiving a timely diabetes diagnosis and treatment can resolve uncomfortable symptoms, prevent long-term health problems, and help you get back to your life.

Diabetes is a common chronic health condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2018 that around 10.5 percent of Americans had diabetes, with the majority having type 2.

It may be hard to detect that you have diabetes in its early stages, because symptoms can be subtle or come on slowly.

You should get tested for diabetes if you are experiencing any of the following signs or symptoms of diabetes:

  • extreme thirst
  • feeling tired all the time
  • feeling very hungry, even after eating
  • blurry vision
  • frequent urination
  • sores or cuts that won’t heal

People with certain risk factors should consider being tested for diabetes even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that you undergo diabetes testing if you’re overweight (body mass index greater than 25) and fall into any of the following categories:

  • you’re overweight (body mass index greater than 25)
  • you’re a high-risk race or ethnicity, including:
    • Black (African American)
    • Latino
    • Native American
    • Pacific Islander
    • Asian American
  • you have high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, or heart disease
  • you have a family history of diabetes
  • you have a personal history of abnormal blood sugar levels or signs of insulin resistance
  • you don’t engage in regular physical activity
  • you’re a woman with a history of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or gestational diabetes. If you’re another gender and have a history of these health conditions, you may also be at risk, and should get tested.

The ADA also recommends you undergo an initial blood sugar test if you’re over the age of 45. This helps you establish a baseline for blood sugar levels.

Because your risk for diabetes increases with age, testing can help you identify your chances for developing it.

Race and ethnicity as “risk factors”

All humans belong to the same race (Homo sapiens) and share over 99 percent of each other’s DNA! Perceived racial differences in our skin colors or facial features are a part of humanity’s natural variation, and have their roots in our ancestors’ different climates.

However, race affects our lives in very real ways, as a manufactured system of social categorization.

When we refer to “risk factors” for different racial and ethnic groups, often these are not actual biological differences. Rather, the differences are due to a variety of factors — such as food preferences and lack of healthcare access — that can make some human beings more at risk for certain health conditions than others.

Was this helpful?

Blood testing allows a doctor to determine your blood sugar levels when evaluating you for diabetes. There are different kinds of diabetes blood tests.

A1c test

Blood testing allows a doctor to determine the levels of blood sugar in the body. The A1C test is one of the most common because its results estimate blood sugar levels over time, and you don’t have to fast before the test.

The A1C test is also known as the glycated hemoglobin test. It measures how much glucose has attached itself to the hemaglobin (a protein) on your red blood cells.

A1C test measures your average blood sugar for about 3 months, which is the lifespan of red blood cells. The test requires drawing only a small amount of blood. The blood can be taken by a poke from a finger stick, or drawn from your arm.

A1C results are measured in a percentage:

Test resultIndicated condition
5.6% or lowerNormal
5.7% to 6.4%Prediabetes
6.5% or greaterDiabetes

Lab tests are standardized by the National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program (NGSP). This means that no matter what lab performs the test, the methods to test the blood are the same.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, only tests that have been approved by the NGSP should be considered definitive enough to diagnose diabetes.

Some people may have varied results using the A1C test. This includes people with kidney disease and hemoglobin variants. Your doctor may suggest alternate diabetes tests in these circumstances.

A1C testing is also used in managing diabetes. Usually the goal for someone in treatment for diabetes is 7 percent or less. However, your A1C goal will be individualized based on your health status.

Random blood sugar test

A random blood sugar test involves drawing blood at any given time, no matter when you last ate.

Results of this test equal to or greater than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) indicate diabetes.

Fasting blood sugar test

Fasting blood sugar tests involve having your blood drawn after you’ve fasted overnight, which usually means not eating for 8 to 12 hours.

Results for fasting blood sugar are broken down like this:

Test resultIndicated condition
99 mg/dL or lowerNormal
100 to 125 mg/dLPrediabetes
126 mg/dL or greaterDiabetes

Oral glucose tolerance test

The oral glucose test (OGTT) takes place over the course of 2 hours.

First, your blood sugar is tested. Then, you’re given a sugary drink. After 2 hours, your blood sugar levels are tested again.

Test resultIndicated condition
139 mg/dL or lowerNormal
140 to 199 mg/dLPrediabetes
200 mg/dL or greaterDiabetes

Urine tests aren’t always used to diagnose diabetes. But doctors often use them if they think you may have type 1 diabetes.

The body produces chemicals called ketones when fat tissue is used for energy instead of glucose. Labs can test urine for these ketone bodies.

If ketones are present in moderate to large amounts in your urine, this could indicate your body is not making enough insulin to break down glucose for energy.

Gestational diabetes can occur when you’re pregnant, and usually goes away after giving birth. The CDC explains that gestational diabetes can increase your risk of having a large baby that needs C-section delivery, or having a baby that develops type 2 diabetes later in life.

The ADA suggests that pregnant women with any risk factors for diabetes be tested at their first prenatal visit. Gestational diabetes happens in the second and third trimester.

Doctors may use two types of glucose tests to diagnose gestational diabetes. These tests evaluate how your body processes sugar.

Initial glucose challenge test

The initial glucose challenge screening test is structured like this:

  • You drink a glucose syrup solution given by your doctor.
  • Your blood is drawn an hour later to measure your blood sugar level.

A result under 140 mg/dL is considered normal. A higher-than-usual reading indicates the need for further testing.

These are the follow-up steps for glucose tolerance testing:

  • You must fast (not eat) overnight.
  • Your initial blood sugar level is measured.
  • You drink a cup of high-sugar solution.
  • Your blood sugar is then checked hourly for 3 hours.

Gestational diabetes is indicated if results show two or more higher-than-usual readings.

2-hour glucose tolerance test

This test has a similar procedure to the previous one. Your blood sugar is measured 2 hours after drinking the glucose solution.

One out-of-range value indicates gestational diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition, but it’s very treatable. It’s possible to manage your diabetes and live a healthy, full life. Untreated, diabetes can cause serious long-term health effects and even become life threatening.

Getting tested for diabetes in a timely manner is essential. If you have a history of the condition in your family or are experiencing symptoms (including thirst and increased urination), you should be tested. Pregnant people with any risk factors should be tested for at their first natal visit to prevent gestational diabetes.

Diabetes is evaluated through different types of blood and urine tests. The right test for you will depend on your age, symptoms, and overall health.