Blood Test Predicts Diabetes Early On

Diabetes risk may be determined sooner than previously thought

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Diabetes greatly increases the possibility of having a heart attack or stroke. Early detection and treatment, however, can prevent further progression of the disease.

People with diabetes can have too much blood sugar in their system, which in time can damage blood vessels and nerves. Those with prediabetes have higher than normal blood sugar levels that can lead to diabetes if left untreated.

By using a common blood test, scientists have recently found that they can identify the likelihood of developing diabetes earlier than the current standard approach for detecting prediabetes.

"Take a blood test to check for diabetes before it develops."

Nataly Lerner, in the Department of Family Medicine at Tel-Aviv University in Israel and her colleagues, analyzed data on 10,201 patients, who had not been diagnosed with diabetes but who had received an HbA1c blood test between 2002 and 2005. Within five to eight years, 22.5 percent of these individuals developed diabetes.

HbA1c is a lab test that shows the average level of blood sugar (glucose) over the previous three months. The test is based on the attachment of glucose to hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.

The HbA1c test is a standard way for diagnosing diabetes. The American Diabetes Association and the World Health Organization both advocate its use.

An HbA1c reading of 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent is considered to be prediabetes, and an HbA1c level of 6.5 percent or higher is a sign of diabetes. Normal blood sugar is an Hb1Ac of 5.7 percent or less.

Dr. Lerner and her team, however, found that HbA1c levels as low as 5.5 percent may indicate increased diabetes risk. They said that those with HbA1c at this level were significantly more likely to develop diabetes than patients with HbA1c below 5.5 percent.

When looking at sub-groups, the authors noted that of those who had HbA1c less than 4.5 percent, 9 percent were diagnosed with diabetes. For those with 4.5 to 5 percent HbA1c, 9.6 percent were diagnosed. Diabetes diagnoses rose to almost 13 percent for those with 5.0 to 5.5 percent HbA1c, 20 percent for 5.5 to 6 percent HbA1c, and about 40 percent for 6 to 6.5 percent HbA1c.

Researchers remarked that patient risk of developing diabetes basically doubled for every .5 percent jump in HbA1c level. Obesity also doubled the likelihood of getting diabetes.

"Our study supports the idea that the A1c test, used to diagnose type-2 diabetes, can also be used at a much earlier stage to screen for the disease in the high risk population, like overweight patients," said Dr. Lerner in a press release.

Once a person develops diabetes, it can be difficult or impossible to reverse. People with prediabetes can take steps to return blood sugar levels to a normal zone and prevent diabetes. The American Diabetes Association says that those with prediabetes can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by exercising moderately (at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week) and losing weight (7 percent is recommended).

The study was published online at the end of January in European Journal of General Practice.

Review Date: 
February 3, 2014
Last Updated:
February 3, 2014