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Your Good Health: Patient still has diabetes even with normal blood sugar

Once the diagnosis of diabetes has been made, it is a “stable” diagnosis.
Dr. Keith Roach

Dear Dr. Roach: My mom was feeling awful and went to the doctor. The doctor did lab work and concluded that my mom’s A1C was 8.5% — and that she was diabetic. My mom told her doctor that she had been eating a lot of sweets every day. The doctor put her on metformin, but my mom said that the medicine made her feel worse.

So, the doctor told her she could stop taking it and quit eating desserts to see if her A1C would come down on its own. Three months later, my mom repeated her lab work, and her A1C was down to 6.4%. The doctor said, “You are no longer diabetic and don’t need any medicine. Just watch what you eat.”

Well, my mom is a dessert-aholic and still eats whatever she wants, just in moderation, but she is not scheduled to go back to the doctor. I tried to explain to her that when she eats a lot of sugar or starch, her glucose level can still skyrocket and cause damage to her kidneys and other organs. I told her it is very unhealthy for her glucose levels to go up and down, but she just repeats what her doctor said about no longer being diabetic and just having to watch what she eats. Is this correct? I am worried about her health.


Congratulations to your mom for getting her blood sugar back down to the near-normal range. That’s an impressive achievement by just changing her diet in a very short time. I am sorry to disagree with her doctor, but she still has diabetes.

Once the diagnosis of diabetes has been made, it is a “stable” diagnosis, and her blood sugar will hopefully stay controlled with her diet. However, if she changes her diet back to what it was when her A1C was 8.5% (not well-controlled), it’s likely that her A1C will go back up there.

Her doctor may be absolutely correct that with a careful diet (and hopefully a good amount of moderate exercise), she may remain well-controlled without medicine, but I strongly disagree about not having her back for regular checkups.

My experience is that many people initially do a great job with their diet but slowly go back to their less-healthy ways, and maintaining good behaviors often requires frequent reminders. The fact that your mom seems to be slipping on her healthy eating is concerning. You are quite right that starches are rapidly turned into sugar by the body. Repeat visits every three months are a minimum, in my opinion, for a person recently diagnosed with diabetes.

Although metformin is often the first medicine we use for people with Type 2 diabetes, especially those who are overweight, it is not the only treatment. Other oral medications are also effective at keeping blood sugar levels down. Some of these also help with weight loss and protecting the heart and kidneys. Side effects vary, and we are usually able to find a well-tolerated medicine when needed.

Finally, let me once again put in a recommendation that diabetes educators and registered dieticians have a great deal of expertise in helping patients learn healthy behaviors. Her doctor may not have enough time to really break down her diet and give her the personalized advice that she needs.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to [email protected]