This National Diabetes Awareness Month, check your blood sugar levels

Could you have pre-diabetes and not know it? Now is the time to schedule your annual blood sugar screening check. Here’s why.

Did you know that November is National Diabetes Awareness Month?

“Whether we have diabetes or not, or believe we are in excellent health or just keen to enhance our wellbeing, we should make the most of the international attention on one of the most serious chronic illnesses of our time, and check our own diabetes risk. Now is the time to schedule our annual health screening tests specifically focusing on screening for diabetes,” says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, head of the Discovery Health Centre for Clinical Excellence.

Could you have diabetes and not know it?

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) up to 4.5 million adults in South Africa have diabetes and globally 415 million adults live with diabetes with the numbers expected to rise to as high as 642 million by 2040.

“While we are able to offer support to our members who have diabetes, there are also many people who have the condition but remain undiagnosed and at risk of serious complications as well as people who are high risk of developing diabetes in the future and who could make health changes now to delay or prevent this from occurring,” Nematswerani continues.

“Annual screening checks that look at health markers such as blood glucose levels, blood cholesterol levels, HIV-status, body mass index, waist circumference and blood pressure are very important and are a simple and cost-effective way of picking up warning signs of diabetes and other chronic illnesses as early as possible. Once we pick up these warning signs, we can apply lifestyle changes that can reverse our risk and also initiate treatment early on to prevent complications.

“People underestimate the impact of early diagnosis, and how this helps to avoid the serious complications associated with unmanaged diabetes in the long-term – like heart disease, nerve damage and lower limb amputations, kidney damage, blindness and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Discovery Health Medical Scheme data show decline in diabetes screening tests

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have avoided visiting their healthcare practitioners for any form of care not related to Covid-19, including for regular screening checks.

“With the majority of healthcare providers and an increasing number of their patients vaccinated for Covid-19, we all feel far safer resuming access to care. It’s so important that we reverse the trend of staying away from our doctors for fear of contracting Covid-19 or of postponing screening checks. If we don’t, we will continue to miss out on critical opportunities to pick up the onset of potentially serious illnesses, like diabetes, as early as possible,” adds Nematswerani.

“For example, Discovery Health Medical Scheme data to August 2021 show a 55% decline in breast cancer screening, 20% lower registration depression treatment and 27% fewer diabetes [HbA1c] screening tests – three examples in which advanced illness significantly affects quality of life and treatment costs. We are starting to see a much-needed resurgence in demand here and are doing all we can to raise awareness of the importance of screening both within our scheme member base and for the public at large.”

Getting to grips with type 2 diabetes

Did you know that there are two forms of diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. It generally starts during childhood and is linked to autoimmune disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body produces insulin but cannot respond to it effectively. Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with unhealthy lifestyle behaviours (unhealthy eating and inactivity, overweight and obesity) and, to some extent, genetic predisposition.

Diabetes type 2 starts as “pre-diabetes”, a condition estimated to affect millions of people in South African.

“This is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for the person to be diagnosed as having type 2 diabetes. This happens when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose, also known as insulin resistance” says Nematswerani.

“People can live unaware they are pre-diabetic. The most important diabetes prevention and management tools are achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in regular exercise and following a healthy diet. Unless we implement healthy lifestyle changes, pre-diabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes.”

What increases the risk of the onset of type 2 diabetes?

A range of factors contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes:

  1. Genetics: If a parent or grandparent has the condition, you have a higher risk of developing type two diabetes if your lifestyle habits are unhealthy.
  2. Age: As people get older, the chances of developing type 2 diabetes increase, making regular blood glucose screening important as we age.
  3. Abdominal weight: Carrying additional weight around the stomach is a major risk factor. Males should have a waist circumference of less than 102cm, and females should have a waist circumference of less than 88cm. You should measure your waist circumference regularly, or include this measurement when you have your health screening check.
  4. Overweight and obesity: Being overweight raises the risk significantly. A significant number of patients with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, which is why it is important to check your body mass index (BMI) regularly.
  5. Inactivity: It is well-documented that exercise plays a critical role in reducing our risk of this type 2 diabetes.
  6. Diet: A high-calorie diet rich in fatty, starchy, or sugary foods can all contribute to weight gain, which is the true cause of type 2 diabetes.
  7. Smoking: The more a person smokes, the higher their risk of developing diabetes and make the disease harder to manage too.

Prevent type 2 diabetes through regular screening checks and healthy living

“Even if type 2 diabetes runs in your family, a healthy, portion-controlled diet, frequent exercise, stopping smoking (or never smoking at all), and maintaining a healthy body weight can substantially lower one’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes,” says Nematswerani.

“All of us – not only those who have a family history of diabetes – must have a diabetes screening test at least once a year. The process involves a quick and easy finger prick test and can be done by your doctor, or as part of a Vitality Health Check. Talk to your primary care doctor about your diabetes screening, so that you can get the advice you need before going for your test. Discovery Health Medical Scheme members can also can find a healthcare professional to carry out their test by using the ‘Find a Healthcare Provider’ tool when they are logged in on the Discovery website.”

What sort of support does Discovery Health Medical Scheme offer to people who have diabetes?

“The Discovery Health Medical Scheme Chronic Illness Benefit  provides comprehensive cover for diabetes management,” explains Nematswerani.

“And qualifying scheme members who are registered on the Chronic Illness Benefit for type 1 or type 2 diabetes, also qualify to register for access to the Diabetes Care Programme, and gain access to a Premier Plus GP, who will help them to actively manage their diabetes. The programme gives members and their Premier Plus GP additional cover for diabetes-related healthcare services and access to various tools to monitor and manage the condition and to ensure they get high quality coordinated healthcare and the best outcomes.”

For more information on diabetes, the Diabetes Care Programme, and the Chronic Illness benefit, visit



Discovery Health Medical Scheme, registration number 1125, is regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes and administered by Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, registration number 1997/013480/07, an authorised financial services provider.

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