Nearly 18 million Americans are currently diagnosed with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. However, an additional 5.7 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes -- but don't even know it.
On "The Early Show," CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said screenings are traditionally recommended to begin for low-risk patients at age 45 and repeated every three years after. Low-risk, Ashton explained, means you are not overweight, obese or have a family history.
But a new study in in The Lancet medical journal, may change things. The research, based on a sample of the U.S. population, says earlier screening for Type 2 diabetes, starting between 30 to 45 years, can reduce heart attacks, diabetes-related complications and even death. Researchers recommend that people have their screenings done along with cholesterol and blood pressure tests.
Ashton explained there are currently three tests available for diabetes. The two older tests, Fasting Plasma Glucose Test and Oral Glucose Tolerance Test for Diabetes, both require overnight fasting. A "newer" test called the A1C test is a simple blood test and does not require fasting and can diagnose a stage before Type 2 diabetes called pre-diabetes. The A1C provides an average of your blood sugar control for up to three months. She added the A1C test is also used for home to monitor levels.
"These are all tests that can help catch the disease before it becomes too late and the harm is done to your body," she said.
Another concern is diabetes among children. Type 2 diabetes is generally associated with older patients. But Ashton said, because of high childhood obesity rates, Type 2 diabetes rates have increased in children.
Ashton said if your child's body mass index is over the 85th percentile, your child could be at high risk for Type 2 diabetes. Parents, Ashton said, should keep their child's pediatrician up to speed on family history of diabetes (first or second-degree relative).
Ashton said, "Type 2 diabetes develops gradually, so some children may not show any symptoms or signs of diabetes -- but if your child is overweight and has symptoms like increased thirst and frequent urination, blurred vision, fatigue, or patches of darkened skin (which may be a sign of insulin resistance) or slow-healing sores or frequent infections, see your pediatrician about any of the screening tests."
Ashton pointed out a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that children should be tested starting from age 10 or the onset of puberty.
"Type 2 diabetes for children under 10 is rare," Ashton said, citing the CDC. "Like adults, high-risk children need to be tested every three years."
Screening tests can also look for pre-diabetes, which affects 57 million Americans -- more than double the number of people who have diabetes.
Ashton said knowing you're pre-diabetic can stop trouble in its tracks.
"Pre-diabetes is when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diabetes -- research shows that this is a crucial point of diabetes prevention or future disease management," she said. "You can delay and even prevent Type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent through earlier intervention like exercising more and losing weight. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise and reducing your body weight by five to 10 percent can reduce your risks."
Early screening is also important because people with Type 2 diabetes might not have symptoms at all, Ashton said.
"Diabetes usually occurs gradually and the earlier you know, the earlier you can start to manage this disease," she said. "Type 2 diabetes is frequently not diagnosed until complications appear. That's why it's important to get screened early -- and also important to know your risk factors."
Risk factors include:
• Family history
• High blood pressure
• Race/ethnicity (African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American or Native American)
• History of gestational diabetes