Prediabetes is a condition that affects millions of people in the United States and it is defined as having a blood sugar level that is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. When you have prediabetes, it often leads to type 2 diabetes if it is not treated. In this article, we will discuss what prediabetes is, the symptoms of prediabetes, the causes of prediabetes, and the treatment options for prediabetes among other topics.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels, also known as glucose, are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes, it means that your body is starting to have trouble processing glucose, usually due to your cells becoming insulin resistant. It is common if you have type 2 diabetes to develop prediabetes first, but if you have prediabetes it does not necessarily mean it will progress to full-blown diabetes in the future. When prediabetes is left untreated, it can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems.
What are the symptoms of prediabetes?
There are often no symptoms of prediabetes, which is why it is important to get your blood sugar levels checked by your doctor if you think you may be at risk. If you do have symptoms, they will be similar to the symptoms of having type 2 diabetes and it is possible that you already have diabetes. These common diabetes symptoms may include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Increased hunger
- Darkened skin on your body, especially in the neck, groin, and armpits
- Numbness or a tingling sensation in your extremities
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent infections and the inability of your wounds to heal
If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor or health care provider for a blood sugar test as soon as possible.
What causes prediabetes and what are the risk factors for it?
The exact cause of prediabetes is unknown, but there are certain risk factors that can increase your chance of developing prediabetes. These risk factors for prediabetes include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a family history of diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus
- Having a large waist of over 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women
- Being over the age of 45
- Having high blood pressure or high cholesterol, specifically high levels of LDL or the “bad” cholesterol and high triglyceride levels
- Having a history of gestational diabetes, which is a type of diabetes during pregnancy; if you had it during pregnancy you and your child are both at a higher risk of prediabetes
- Having a child that weighed over nine pounds when born
- Smoking cigarettes
- Living a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Eating or drinking lots of processed foods, sugary drinks, and red meat and having an overall unhealthy diet
- Being a certain race because if you are African-American, Native American, Latino, and Pacific Islander you are at a higher risk
- Having sleep apnea puts you at a higher risk for both obesity and prediabetes
- Having metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and heart disease
What are the complications of prediabetes?
If prediabetes is left untreated, it can lead to type 2 diabetes as well as other serious health complications. These complications include:
- Heart disease which is also called cardiovascular disease
- Kidney disease and kidney damage
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Eye damage and blindness
- Nerve damage which is also called peripheral neuropathy
- Foot problems and amputations
- Loss of vision and overall eye damage
- Fatty liver disease
Due to these complications, prediabetes is a serious condition that if left untreated can lead to some serious health problems.
When do you need to see your doctor about prediabetes?
If you think you may be at risk for prediabetes, it is important to see your doctor and get your blood sugar levels checked. Also, if you notice any of the signs or symptoms of prediabetes, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor.
How do doctors diagnose prediabetes?
If you have prediabetes, your blood sugar levels will be higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There are a few different tests that your doctor may use for the diagnosis of prediabetes and these include:
Fasting plasma glucose test
The fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test is the most common test used to diagnose prediabetes. It is a blood test that measures your blood sugar levels after you have fasted, or not eaten, for at least 8 hours. If your blood sugar levels are between 100 and 125 mg/dl on this test, it means you have prediabetes.
Oral glucose tolerance test
The oral glucose tolerance (OGTT) test is similar to the fasting plasma glucose test, but it measures your blood glucose level after you have fasted and then again two hours after you drink a sugary drink. It is common to have the oral glucose tolerance test after your fasting plasma glucose test. If your blood sugar levels are between 140 and 199 mg/dl on this test, it means you have prediabetes.
Glycated hemoglobin A1C test
The glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test measures your average blood sugar levels over the past few months and is usually given to you if you are diabetic to monitor if your blood glucose levels are under control. However, it can also be used to diagnose prediabetes. If your results are between 5.7% to 6.4% then you are diagnosed with prediabetes.
What are the treatment options for prediabetes?
The good news is that prediabetes is a treatable and reversible condition. There are a few different treatment options available and these include:
The most important thing you can do to treat prediabetes is to make lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and losing weight if you are overweight.
If lifestyle changes alone are not enough to treat prediabetes, your doctor may also prescribe diabetes medication. The most common medications used to treat prediabetes include metformin and acarbose.
If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking increases your risk for both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Manage blood pressure and cholesterol problems
If you have prediabetes and high blood pressure or high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medication and you need to exercise regularly and eat healthy to also help manage these health problems.
Can you prevent prediabetes?
Yes, prediabetes is a preventable condition. You can prevent prediabetes by making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising, eating healthy, and managing any health conditions that you may have. Weight loss, if you are obese shedding any excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight, are also important in preventing prediabetes. Your alcohol consumption needs to also be limited to only one drink per day to help limit your risk of prediabetes. If you are prescribed any medication by your doctor, you need to take them as prescribed. Finally, monitoring and controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will help to curb your risk for prediabetes as well.
Prediabetes is a treatable and reversible condition that is marked by high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. It is important to make lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy, exercising, and losing excess body weight to help manage prediabetes and treat it. Medications may also be prescribed by your doctor to help control your blood glucose levels as a treatment option. You can prevent prediabetes by making healthy lifestyle choices and monitoring any health conditions you have. If you think you may have prediabetes or have any questions, it is important to speak with your doctor or health care provider so that you can begin your treatment plan and manage your condition. Left untreated, prediabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems but with treatment and lifestyle changes, you can prevent prediabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes and other health complications.
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