All adults 45 and older should be tested every three years for diabetes, experts said for the first time in sweeping, government-endorsed guidelines issued Monday.
The guidelines, released at a meeting of the american Diabetes Association in Boston, could lead doctors to screen as many as 89 million adults.
Diabetes is a stealthy ailment that robs people of their sight, their kidneys and their limbs , and causes heart disease and stroke. If it is detected early, the worst complications can be prevented.
All that would be required is a simple, $5 to $10 blood test that measures plasma glucose after a person has fasted for eight hours. An overload of blood sugar would tigger a second test on a different day.
If this test was positive, the patient would be placed on a regimen of diet , exercise and, possibly, drugs. About one in five people with diabetes needs daily insulin shots.
The new guidelines, which also lower the threshold for declaring people diabetic, replace those adopted in 1979 calling only for screening of high-risk individuals.
Doctors say they could help detect up to 2 million hidden cases of diabetes. Although studies suggest that 16 million people in the USA have diabetes, only about half of team are currently diagnosed.
James Gavin of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., and chairman of the guidelines committee, says the change is long overdue.
"What would happen if you had and infectious disease that affected 16 million people, that was a leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and amputations and was costing this country $130 billion a year?" he asks. "We would have the most aggressive eradication campaign ever".
The guidelines have been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health. The World Health Organization plans to adopt a similar policy later this year.