MU researcher helps create diabetes screening tool

TAG-IT could prevent diabetes by finding symptoms early.
Megan Stroup / Graphic Designer

An MU family medicine researcher was part of a team that devised a tool to easily screen patients for type 2 diabetes in clinics, potentially over the Internet.

In a study published in the December issue of The Annals of Family Medicine, family medicine professor Richelle Koopman and three scientists from the Medical University of South Carolina devised a six-part test that identifies patients with the highest risk of impaired fasting glycemia, a symptom of pre-diabetes.

Called the Tool to Assess Likelihood of Fasting Glucose ImpairmenT, the test measures six factors that are reported by the patients without medical screening. TAG-IT assesses the likelihood of impaired fasting glycemia by weighing age, sex, body mass index, family history, resting heart rate and blood pressure.

According to the team's published report, the average age of diagnosis for type 2 diabetes in the U.S. is 46, and about 57 million Americans have impaired fasting glycemia. The report estimates one-third of Americans with diabetes do not know they have it.

Koopman said the goal of TAG-IT is to help people prevent diabetes by detecting it early and inexpensively. She said the test could have potential as a Web-based screening tool to encourage awareness of diabetic symptoms among patients.

"There has been increasing evidence that pre-diabetic states are associated with diseases and other complications, and strategies that prevent diabetes in those with pre-diabetes are effective," Koopman said in a news release. "The TAG-IT tool will help physicians assess patients' risk levels. Hopefully, knowing their TAG-IT scores will encourage high-risk patients to use preventative strategies and make positive changes in their behaviors."

Arch Mainous, professor and director of research for the Department of Family Medicine at MUSC, said the most important aspect of the test is that it can detect warning signs of diabetes and help patients make lifestyle changes in time for doctors to recommend long-term treatments instead of the lifetime medication necessary with diabetes.

"I think one of the issues that comes up in diabetes is that we really want to keep people from progressing to diabetes," Mainous said. "If we can pick people up in that stage, we can save them the complications and the public costs that come with it."

Mainous said the fact that the test does not require lab equipment to generate a score means that it can deliver results more easily and quickly.

"What we really want is for them not to get diabetes," Mainous said. "The difference here is you do this in the office, and I can know whether a patient has to make those changes now."

The researchers felt the test's ease of use made it more useful for doctors and in research. The test allows doctors to more quickly generate statistics about the trends of pre-diabetes on a large scale, like the U.S. population.

"TAG-IT represents an improvement over previous lists of risk factors and over BMI alone because it aids clinicians in combining multiple risk factors, it can be applied to young and middle-aged adults," the authors concluded in the report. "TAG-IT can be readily and immediately applied in clinical settings, can be widely applied in practices using electronic health records and can improve the efficiency of population-based screening."

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