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Three Ounces Of Prevention

You also qualify for diabetes screening if you have a combination of any two of these characteristics:

• age 65 or over (i.e., most people on Medicare);

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• overweight (BMI greater than 25 but less than 30);

• a family history of diabetes;

• a history of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or delivery of a baby weighing more than nine pounds.

What's covered? A fasting blood glucose test and post-glucose challenge test.

How often? If you've been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, twice per year. If not, once per year.

What will it cost me? Nothing.

What are they looking for? Diabetes or pre-diabetes. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which glucose, a form of sugar, fails to move from your bloodstream to your cells. Over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to your heart, nerves, eyes and kidneys.

In pre-diabetes, blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association's Web site, researchers believe that even pre-diabetes can cause long-term damage to the body, especially the heart and circulatory system.

What can I expect at the visit? For the fasting blood glucose test, blood is drawn from your arm after you have gone at least eight hours without eating. For the second test, you'll be asked to drink a sugary solution (which "challenges" your system with sugar) and wait two hours, after which your blood will be drawn again.

Why are these tests important? "Prevention and early detection mean everything," said Cathy Tibbetts, president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. No one wants to hear that they have diabetes or even pre-diabetes. But the earlier they're detected, the easier they are to control. If your blood test indicates high blood sugar, "the follow-up to that screening is critical," said Tibbetts, who manages the Inova Diabetes Center at Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax. Your health care provider can teach you strategies for managing your blood sugar to delay or avoid complications. •

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