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What is Prediabetes and Why Should You Worry About It?

image of "prediabetes" written on a screen with a syringe near

You’ve probably heard of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and the havoc these conditions can wreak. But do you know what prediabetes is? If not, it’s time to find out, since the incidence of this health problem is rising. Prediabetes is a silent disease that affects up to 30% of the population, and many people don’t know they have it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not damaging your body and increasing your risk of future health problems. It is!

What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition marked by glucose intolerance - a condition that occurs when your bloodstream glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be recognized as full-blown type 2 diabetes. It’s a state of high blood sugar that occurs when your body isn’t using insulin efficiently.

If it’s not type 2 diabetes, why should you worry about it? Prediabetes raises your risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes over time. Also, scientists now know that prediabetes can cause health issues even before it becomes type 2 diabetes. Some damage may occur at those “in-between” blood sugar levels where blood glucose is higher than it should be, but not at diabetic levels.

How Do You Know If You Have Prediabetes?

If you get a fasting blood glucose level, as many doctors recommend you get every six months or so, it can give you some indication of whether you’re prediabetic. A fasting blood glucose level of between 100 and 125 is considered prediabetic. Below that is considered normal, and above that, it’s diabetes. To get an accurate measurement, you’ll have to fast for 8 to 12 hours before the test.

However, a random fasting blood sugar level isn’t the best test for detecting prediabetes. A better measurement is a hemoglobin A1C level. (HgbA1C) This test gives you an estimate of your blood sugar control over the past 3 months. It tells you more, since you aren’t measuring glucose at a single point in time. It’s also a simple blood test your doctor can perform when they do a blood draw every 6 months or so.

An even better test considered the “gold standard” for detecting prediabetes or diabetes is an oral two-hour glucose tolerance test. To do this test, you drink a glucose solution, and technicians measure your blood glucose level at intervals after you drink it.

It’s not feasible to perform because of time factors, so doctors don’t do it as often as they once did, but it can provide valuable information. However, you don’t need it to make a diagnosis of prediabetes. Doctors can do it based on the results of HgbA1C testing.

What to Do if You Have Prediabetes?

The good news is you can reverse prediabetes through lifestyle if you take action early. According to Johns Hopkins, losing around 10% of body weight six months after a diagnosis of prediabetes lowers the risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes. When you lose weight, your cells become more responsive to insulin, and your blood sugars fall.

Your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke drops too. Prediabetes is especially harmful if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease or stroke, like high blood pressure and abnormal blood lipids.

Other factors that increase the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Obesity

  • Being over the age of 45

  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes

  • Not getting the recommended amount of exercise

  • Being in certain ethnic groups. American Indians, Asian Americans, African Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanic and Latinos are at higher risk.

  • Having a history of gestational diabetes

What Happens if You Ignore Prediabetes?

When you have prediabetes, you’re at a higher risk of developing a heart attack, even if you don’t have full-blown diabetes. Around 30% of people with prediabetes will also progress to type 2 diabetes, unless they make changes that lower blood sugar and improve how cells respond to insulin.

Losing weight will help prevent the complications associated with prediabetes. Staying physically active, modifying your diet, getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night, and managing stress can also bring down your blood sugars into a healthier range.

From a dietary perspective, cut the sugar, refined carbs, and junk food. Some studies show a traditional Mediterranean diet is effective for lowering blood sugar and reducing progression to type 2 diabetes. This eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fish.

The Bottom Line

Prediabetes is a condition you can treat and reverse through lifestyle. It’s worth the effort, since it can have longer-term consequences for your health and progress to type 2 diabetes. Take it seriously.


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