By Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, March 9, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- A large number of Americans with prediabetes aren't being treated for the condition, which suggests that doctors are missing opportunities to prevent diabetes, researchers report.
More than one-third of U.S. adults have prediabetes, which means their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. People with prediabetes are at increased risk for circulatory problems, kidney disease, and nerve and retinal damage, the study authors said.
"We know that prediabetes is considered one of the biggest risk factors for the development of diabetes, with estimates ranging from 15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes developing diabetes within five years," said lead investigator Arch Mainous III. Mainous is chair of the department of health services research, management and policy in the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida.
"We also know that 90 percent of people who have prediabetes don't know they have it. So the question becomes, where is the doctor in all this? Is the doctor identifying people with prediabetes, telling them about it and providing treatment? That's what we wanted to find out," he said in a university news release.
Mainous and his colleagues analyzed 2012 federal government survey data on people aged 45 and older who had doctor-ordered blood tests within the past 90 days. About 34 percent of them had blood sugar levels that indicated prediabetes.
However, very few of those patients were told they had prediabetes and only 23 percent of them began treatment for the condition, such as lifestyle changes or drug therapy, according to the study. The findings were published March 8 in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
"Even with blood test results in front of them, physicians weren't detecting prediabetes in their patients in terms of making a diagnosis or providing some sort of management or treatment," Mainous said.
"Identifying people with prediabetes and getting them some sort of treatment has been shown to be effective for slowing the progression to diabetes or stopping it altogether, and that is the goal of prevention," he explained. "We don't want to manage half the population with diabetes. What we want to do is keep them from getting diabetes."
Mainous said he is now conducting a survey of thousands of family doctors to learn why so many patients with prediabetes aren't receiving treatment.