If you have been feeling a little off lately and have certain risk factors, it might be time to get checked for prediabetes. A precursor to diabetes, prediabetes is a common condition that occurs when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not as high when you have diabetes. Left untreated, prediabetes can lead to the chronic condition of type 2 diabetes and a number of other serious health problems. In this article, we will discuss the warning signs of prediabetes, what you can do about it, and how to prevent prediabetes from developing in the first place.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a condition in which you have elevated blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance, but are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. It is often a precursor to diabetes although most people do not realize they have it. The food you ingest is broken down into glucose which is then used for energy by the cells in your body. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that helps to regulate the amount of glucose in your blood by allowing your cells to take in the glucose and use it for energy. When you have prediabetes, your cells have become insulin resistant which means they lose their insulin sensitivity and do not react to insulin properly which causes your blood glucose levels to rise. There are numerous health problems that can arise if prediabetes is left untreated such as cardiovascular disease, liver damage, eye damage, and stroke. Prediabetes is also sometimes called borderline diabetes.
What are the symptoms of prediabetes?
There are often no symptoms associated with prediabetes which is why it is important to get your blood sugar levels checked regularly. If you do have symptoms, they usually are similar to the symptoms of diabetes and these telltale warning signs include:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision
- Dark skin patches called acanthosis nigricans can appear velvety, especially around your armpits, groin, elbows, knees, and knuckles
- A lack of sensation or tingling in your hands and feet
- Frequent infections
- Wounds that heal slowly
- Unexplained weight loss even if you are eating more
- Skin tags, skin infections, or unusual skin growths
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor so they can perform a blood test to check your blood sugar levels.
What are the causes and risk factors for prediabetes?
Although the exact cause of prediabetes is unknown there are numerous risk factors. The risk factors for prediabetes include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a family history of diabetes or prediabetes
- A waist size that is larger than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women
- Being a certain race or ethnicity because if you are African American, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Latino you are at a higher risk of developing it
- An unhealthy diet consisting of sugary drinks, unhealthy fats, and processed foods
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Having obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that stops your breathing as you sleep
- Had gestational diabetes in the past which is when you have diabetes during pregnancy
- Smoking tobacco
- Living a sedentary lifestyle and being inactive
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Having metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that include high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance
The more risk factors you have, your risk of prediabetes increases. If you have any of these risk factors it is important to see your doctor so they can help you manage your condition and lower your risk of developing prediabetes.
When do I need to see a doctor?
If you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is important to see your doctor so they can perform a blood test to check your glucose levels. If you have several of the risk factors associated with prediabetes your doctor may opt to test your blood sugar more regularly.
How is prediabetes diagnosed?
Prediabetes is diagnosed through a fasting plasma glucose test (FGT), oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), or a glycated hemoglobin A1C test. The fasting plasma glucose test is when you fast for at least eight hours, usually overnight, and then have your blood sugar levels checked before eating anything. If your blood sugar levels are between 100 mg/dl and 125 mg/dl you have prediabetes. An oral glucose tolerance test is when you drink a sugary liquid and then have your blood sugar levels checked a couple of hours later. If your blood sugar levels are between 140 mg/dl and 199 mg/dl you have prediabetes. The glycated hemoglobin A1C test is when your doctor checks your average blood sugar levels over the past few months. If it is between 5.7-6.4% then you will receive a prediabetes diagnosis. It is not unusual for your doctor to administer several tests to ensure the diagnosis of prediabetes or diabetes.
What are the treatment options for prediabetes?
If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, there are a few things you can do to treat it and prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes. These include:
- Losing extra weight and maintaining a healthy weight if you are overweight or obese, even losing just 5-7% of your body weight reduces your risk
- Eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar, carbs, red meat, unhealthy fats, and processed foods
- Getting regular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day five days a week or 150 minutes of exercise per week
- Quitting smoking if you smoke tobacco
- Managing your stress levels which can be done with relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga
Your doctor may also prescribe a medication, which is usually metformin. If you have prediabetes, it is important to see your doctor or health care provider so they can help you manage your condition, lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and bring your glucose level to a normal range.
What are the complications caused by prediabetes?
Besides the development of type 2 diabetes, if prediabetes is left untreated, it can lead to a number of different health conditions as it can cause damage to your blood vessels, heart, kidneys, and even your nerves. If prediabetes progresses to type 2 diabetes, then there are a number of different health complications associated with it and they include:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Kidney disease
- Eye damage which includes vision loss and blindness
- Nerve damage which is also called peripheral neuropathy
- Liver damage, including fatty liver disease
- Amputations of your extremities due to a lack of blood flow
Is prediabetes preventable?
Yes, prediabetes is preventable through lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, losing any excess body weight, and managing your stress levels. If you have any of the risk factors associated with prediabetes it is important to see your doctor so they can help you manage your condition.
Prediabetes is characterized by having high blood sugar levels but not at the same high levels as diabetes. There usually are no symptoms of prediabetes; however, there are some symptoms that can serve as warning signs that we outlined above. If you have some of these symptoms it is recommended that you see your doctor to have a blood test performed for diagnosis. Treatment options mostly revolve around healthy lifestyle choices such as losing any excess weight, eating healthy foods, stopping smoking, and managing your stress levels. In some instances, your doctor may also give you medications too. If you have any more questions about prediabetes, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.
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