If you're wondering how to test for diabetes at home - in short, you can't.
But there may be a few steps you can take to give you an indication if you feel you may have noticed early symptoms.
These are in no way a replacement for an appointment with your doctor, but they could point you in the right direction.
For instance, you can test your blood sugar, which you may need to do regularly if diagnosed with diabetes.
In this article, we will explore what tests you can expect your doctor to do to test for diabetes and we will also explain some of the early signs of diabetes.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- Your doctor will be able to test accurately for diabetes using a standard blood test.
- There are several blood tests available to test for diabetes, all from your doctor or hospital.
- Glucose monitors are useful for monitoring your blood sugar levels as part of managing the condition
- How to test for diabetes at home? There is no way to test accurately at home, however, you can monitor your blood sugar from home using a meter.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the pancreas doesn’t work properly. Let’s take a look at what causes diabetes.
Our digestive system takes the food we eat and makes it into a sugar called glucose.
This is the primary fuel we use for most of our cells, organs, and our brain.
The pancreas then produces insulin, a hormone that helps that fuel get from our bloodstream into our cells.
When the pancreas doesn’t work quite right, the insulin it produces doesn’t work effectively.
The pancreas might not produce enough insulin, or what it does produce might be of poor quality.
Sometimes the cells of the body themselves choose not to take up the glucose.
This is called insulin resistance.
If the pancreas does not increase its production of insulin, the glucose or fuel remains in the bloodstream.
If the glucose remains in the bloodstream, it cannot fuel the cells and organs of the body appropriately. Over time, this leads to damage to various parts of the body.
The body tries to rid the bloodstream of this excess glucose through urination. This is important to try to return the blood to normal sugar levels.
What types of diabetes are there?
The main types of diabetes are prediabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
When this condition initially occurs, it could develop into prediabetes.
This is where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but are not yet in the diabetic range.
Prediabetes can often be reversed by healthy lifestyle management. This involves a healthy, balanced diet and plenty of exercise.
Type 2 diabetes
Doctors diagnose type 2 diabetes when blood sugar levels are higher than in prediabetes.
Type 2 diabetes can be managed and even put into remission with changes to lifestyle and diet.
This must be done under the guidance of a team of medical professionals.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a sudden and severe condition. It has similar characteristics to type 2 diabetes but must be treated immediately.
Diabetes, or suspected diabetes, must be treated as soon as possible.
The damage that can occur from untreated diabetes ranges from blindness to loss of limbs.
Your doctor will advise on the treatment you need.
Often, diabetics are expected to monitor their blood sugar levels throughout the day.
They will also often take insulin by injection or in pill form, as their own doesn’t work correctly.
What are the early signs of diabetes?
Diabetes, both type 1 and 2, have similar early signs. So what are the early signs of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes has much more sudden and dramatic symptoms, however, and usually makes people very unwell quickly.
Within a week or two, fatigue and illness from type 1 diabetes can cause hospitalisation.
Prediabetes has little to no signs, and can take five years to reach full-blown type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes signs can often be small and easily explained away as something else.
However, by monitoring your own health and habits, it is possible to note some of the early signs before damage is caused.
How to test for diabetes at home – signs to look out for:
- Increased or excessive thirst
- More frequent urination, particularly at night
- Increased or excessive hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Ongoing and unexplained fatigue
- Increased appetite
- Dry or itchy skin
- Cuts or sores that don’t heal
- Yeast infections like thrush
When should I see the doctor about suspected diabetes?
Type 1 diabetics will typically be quite unwell with symptoms of the condition developing within days or weeks.
As soon as any of these symptoms appear in their severe form, see a doctor.
Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes have a much slower development.
This means that being aware of your body and any changes will be helpful.
Because a lot of symptoms can be mild and easily explained away, it might be helpful to have a regular checkup.
Perhaps keeping notes on your physical habits might be useful to note down any changes, such as increased urination or thirst.
If you have any of the early signs or symptoms of diabetes, go to your GP.
What tests will the Doctor give for diabetes?
There are a few different options the GP might give you when you go to them with concerns about diabetes.
This is the principal test a Doctor will give you to determine if you have diabetes or not.
There is no need to fast or prepare for this test. It is a simple blood test, using blood drawn from your arm.
It can see your average blood sugar levels over the last few months.
You will get the results after a few days, and your doctor or practice nurse will be able to discuss the results with you if you do have diabetes, or a high blood sugar reading.
A higher than usual blood sugar reading might mean you have prediabetes.
Fasting blood sugar test (FPG)
The fasting blood sugar test is similar to the Hba1c. It requires blood to be taken from your arm to be tested. This test also looks at blood sugar levels.
However, for this test you will need to fast for 8 hours before they draw the blood.
This means consuming nothing but water for 8 hours prior to the test.
You might like to try to schedule this test for the early morning, soon after waking up.
This is a fasting test because the Doctor needs a clear picture of your blood sugar levels.
Eating prior to a blood test would distort the amount of sugar in the blood. This makes the results of this blood test difficult to interpret.
This test is routine in later stages of pregnancy to test for gestational diabetes.
They administer the test in two parts.
First, you will fast for 8 hours before blood is drawn and tested. A nurse will usually draw this blood from your arm.
Next, you will consume a sweet drink containing sugar.
The sugar in this drink is a standard amount. You cannot provide your own drink.
Two hours after you take this drink, your blood will be drawn again and tested.
The reason for this two-hour wait is to see how your body reacts to consuming the sugar in the drink.
The test looks to see if your blood sugar levels are at a normal level two hours after the sugary drink.
If the pancreas and the insulin are both working well, then blood sugar levels will be in the normal range.
This is because the pancreas will have created enough insulin to get glucose from the blood and into the cells. Here, the blood will have a normal amount of sugar.
It is called an oral test because you have to drink or eat something- using your mouth. The test does not involve the mouth otherwise.
How to test for diabetes at home
Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to test for diabetes at home.
However, once you have got a diagnosis of diabetes from your doctor, you can test your blood sugar at home.
This will probably be an essential part of your diabetes management plan.
This may include the best food for diabetics.
How to test for diabetes at home
You will need to test your blood sugar levels regularly throughout the day to monitor if and when you need insulin.
It may also help in guiding what you eat and when during the day.
You can measure your blood sugar at home with a blood sugar monitor or metre. The method to test your blood sugar levels is called a finger prick test.
Firstly a sharp needle called a lancet is used to prick the skin on the tip of a finger.
Next you a drop or two of blood on the test strip.
This test strip, complete with a blood sample, is inserted into the meter. The meter itself assesses the level of sugar in the blood.
It will display the result for you to read, and act appropriately according to your care plan.
How to test for diabetes at home – the best option
Modern digital metres can be very advanced.
Some hold months’ worth of test results, or can communicate with other devices in order to store and compare results.