According the American Diabetes Association, diabetes causes more deaths every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined. What’s more, a diabetes diagnosis nearly doubles your risk of heart attack. As part of Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re sharing diabetes signs, symptoms, and diagnosis. In addition, we look at the diabetes-related services Medicare covers.
What Is Diabetes?
The foods we eat fuel our bodies in complex ways. For example, carbohydrates create the glucose, i.e. sugar, that feeds every cell in your body. As your food breaks down, carbohydrates turn into sugars and enter your bloodstream.
To help glucose make its way from the bloodstream to the surrounding cells, your pancreas secretes insulin. Once sugar hits your bloodstream, it triggers the secretion of insulin. When blood sugar is low, your pancreas knows it’s time to stop secreting insulin.
That is what happens in a healthy person. If you have diabetes, though, sugar builds up in the bloodstream due to your pancreas failing to secrete enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or because your cells have grown resistant to insulin (type 2 diabetes).
Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes. However, the disease is very manageable.
The Types of Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes named, appropriately, type 1 and type 2. Only around 5 percent of diabetes patients have type 1, most having been diagnosed in childhood. It’s important to note, though, that adults may also develop type 1 diabetes (called adult onset type 1 diabetes). Often, these cases are mistakenly diagnosed as type 2, leading to difficulties with treatment. If you were diagnosed with type 2 but don’t respond well to treatment, it may be because you actually have type 1 diabetes.
Not every patient has the same experience, but the following are the most common diabetes symptoms.
- Blurred vision
- Extreme fatigue
- Extreme thirst
- Feeling extreme hunger, even while eating
- Frequent urination
- Losing weight despite eating more (type 1 only)
- Minor injuries, such as cuts and bruises, that are slow to heal
- Neuropathy (tingling, pain, and numbness) in the hands and feet (type 2 only)
For the most part, symptoms are the same for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. However, not everyone with type 2 notices any symptoms.
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?
Doctors rely on three different blood tests to diagnose diabetes.
A1C measures two to three months of average blood glucose levels, no fasting required.
- Normal = 5.7% or less
- Prediabetes = 5.7% to 6.4%
- Diabetes = 6.5% or higher
Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) requires the patient to go 8 or more hours without eating or drinking anything except water. Most patients choose to take the FPG test in the morning, before breakfast.
- Normal = less than 100mg/dl
- Prediabetes = 100mg/dl to 125 mg/dl
- Diabetes = 126mg/dl or higher
Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) checks blood glucose levels two hours before and after drinking a high-glucose drink.
- Normal = 140mg/dl or less
- Prediabetes = 140mg/dl to 199mg/dl
- Diabetes = 200mg/dl or higher
Are You at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?
Although doctors don’t yet know what causes diabetes, they do recognize certain risk factors. These include:
- Obesity is the primary risk factor because fatty tissue raises insulin resistance, with larger waist sizes (35″ for women, 40″ for men) significantly increasing risk
- Risk increases along with age, beginning around age 45
- An inactive lifestyle raises risk both because it increases risk of obesity and because exercise helps improve cells’ ability to absorb insulin and burn glucose
- If a parent or sibling has diabetes, you’re more likely to as well
- Sleep issues such as sleep apnea and frequent changes to your sleeping schedule
- Polycystic ovary syndrome increases risk in women
What Diabetes Services Does Medicare Cover?
Medicare covers a variety of diabetes-related services, tests, and supplies.
Medicare Part B covers two diabetes screenings each year if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- Historically high glucose levels
- History of abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Part B also covers two screenings per year if you match at least two of the following criteria:
- Are age 65 or older
- Are overweight
- Have a family history (parent or sibling) of diabetes
- Have a personal history of gestational diabetes OR delivered a baby weighing 9 pounds or more
Assuming your provider accepts assignment, you pay nothing for these tests.
Medicare Part B also covers a variety of diabetes supplies as durable medical equipment. These include:
- Blood sugar testing monitor and strips
- Glucose control solutions
- Insulin, assuming an insulin pump is deemed medically necessary
- Lancet devices and lancets
- Therapeutic shoes or inserts (one per year)
Your costs under Original Medicare are 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount.
Part B also covers certain services not normally covered by Medicare. These include:
- Diabetes self-management training, to help you make lasting lifestyle changes
- A yearly eye exam to screen for diabetic retinopathy
- A foot exam every six months, assuming you did not visit a podiatrist in between visits
- Yearly glaucoma tests due to heightened risk of glaucoma
- Medical nutrition therapy conducted by a registered dietitian or other nutrition professional
Under Medicare Part B, your cost for these services is 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount.
Diabetes Awareness and Medicare
Original Medicare may cover additional services depending on your individual circumstances. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, it may also cover additional services. Talk to your plan provider to be sure.
Do you have questions about your Medicare coverage? Our licensed sales agents are only a toll-free phone call away, just dial 855-350-8101.
META: For Diabetes Awareness Month, we look at the symptoms of the disease as well as diagnosis, testing, and what Medicare covers.
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