If you have been told by your doctor that you have prediabetes, it is important to learn what this means and what you can do about this common condition because it is reversible. Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes yet. Left untreated, prediabetes can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems that we will detail below. In this article, we will discuss what prediabetes is, the symptoms of prediabetes, how prediabetes is diagnosed, and the treatment options for prediabetes.
An introduction into prediabetes
Prediabetes is a health condition that is the precursor to type 2 diabetes. It is a condition in which your blood sugar levels are higher than normal yet they have not progressed to such high levels as to be considered diabetes. If you have prediabetes though it does not mean it will necessarily develop into diabetes because, with early diagnosis and treatment, you can manage and control the condition. Left untreated, prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney damage, and stroke. Other names for prediabetes include impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), impaired fasting glucose (IFG), and borderline diabetes.
What are the symptoms of prediabetes?
There are often no symptoms associated with prediabetes so it can go undetected for many years. The only way to know for certain if you have the condition is to get your blood sugar levels checked by your doctor. However, there are symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of type 2 diabetes that can occur and these include:
- Darkened patches of skin that appear velvety, especially around your groin, neck, armpits, elbows, knees, and knuckles
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Losing weight for no apparent reason, even if you are eating more
- Frequent urination
- Fatigue and feeling tired
- Blurred vision
- Wounds that are slow to heal
- Frequent infections
- Tingling or numbness in your hands and feet
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor or health care provider for a blood sugar test to determine if you have prediabetes.
What causes prediabetes and what are its risk factors?
After ingesting food or drink your body breaks them down into glucose, also known as blood sugar, that then enters your bloodstream. When you have prediabetes, your pancreas stops producing enough of the hormone insulin or your body becomes resistant to its effects, which is called insulin resistance. Insulin is needed by your cells to take in and metabolize your glucose for energy and if your cells are insulin resistant it causes your blood sugar levels to spike and over time it can develop into type 2 diabetes. Although we know your body becomes insulin resistant, the cause of prediabetes is not fully known. However, what we do know is that certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing the condition. The risk factors for prediabetes include:
- Being overweight or obese, especially if you have a waistline of over 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women
- Having a family history of diabetes or prediabetes
- Eating an unhealthy diet that is high in calories, unhealthy fat, sugar, red meat, and processed foods
- Not getting enough physical activity
- Smoking tobacco products
- Excessively drinking alcohol
- Being over the age of 45
- Being of a certain race or ethnicity because if you are African American, Asian American, Latino American, Native American, or Pacific Islander you are more likely to develop prediabetes
- Having sleep apnea which is a sleep disorder where you stop breathing for brief periods while asleep
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is a hormonal disorder that can cause fertility problems in women
- Having high cholesterol, triglyceride levels, or high blood pressure
- Having had gestational diabetes
- Having metabolic syndrome which is a cluster of conditions that occur with obesity and includes high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure
Please note that if you have these risk factors you are at a higher risk for prediabetes although it does not guarantee you will have it. Prediabetes is preventable by following certain lifestyle changes that we will describe below.
How is prediabetes diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have prediabetes, they will likely order a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test or an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The fasting plasma glucose test measures your blood sugar after you have fasted for at least 8 hours and if the results are 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) then you have prediabetes. The oral glucose tolerance test measures your blood sugar after you have fasted for at least eight hours and then again two hours after you have consumed a sugary drink. If your results from this blood test are 140 to 199 mg/dL then you will be diagnosed with prediabetes. Finally, your doctor may also diagnose prediabetes with a glycated hemoglobin A1C test which measures your average blood sugar over the past two to three months and if it is between 5.7-6.4% then you also have prediabetes. It is not unusual to have to take more than one diabetes test to confirm the diagnosis.
What are the treatment options for prediabetes?
There are two main treatment options for prediabetes: lifestyle changes and medication. Lifestyle changes include eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity (approximately 150 minutes of exercise per week), quitting smoking if you smoke, and losing weight if you are overweight or obese while maintaining a healthy body weight. Brisk walking, biking, swimming, and running are all great aerobic exercises that you can do to help stay healthy. These changes can help your body become more sensitive to insulin and can lower your blood glucose levels. Medication is another option and can help to lower your blood glucose levels. The most common type of medication used is metformin which is a diabetes medication that can also be used to treat prediabetes.
What are the complications caused by prediabetes?
If left untreated, prediabetes can develop into type 2 diabetes. In addition, prediabetes also increases your risk of developing other serious health conditions which include:
- Heart disease which is also known as cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease and kidney damage
- Eye damage which includes vision loss and blindness
- Hypertension which is also known as high blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Nerve damage which is also called peripheral neuropathy
- Fatty liver disease
- Amputation of your limbs due to poor blood flow
- Infections, particularly skin infections
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Hearing problems
If you believe you have prediabetes it is important to go to your doctor or health care provider for a diagnosis before it develops into these other health conditions.
Can you prevent prediabetes?
The best way to prevent prediabetes is the same way you treat prediabetes, which is to make lifestyle changes such as eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking if you smoke, and losing excess weight. Managing and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure, whether through diet and exercise or medications, is also important in preventing prediabetes. Limiting your alcohol consumption to one drink per day is also advisable. Stress management is another important factor in the prevention of prediabetes which can be done by using yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques. If you have already been diagnosed with prediabetes, it is important to monitor your blood sugar levels and see your doctor regularly to prevent the progression to diabetes.
Prediabetes is the step before type 2 diabetes and is caused by high blood sugar levels. Symptoms can include being tired, increased thirst, and needing to urinate more frequently although most times there are no symptoms and you may not know you have it. You can prevent and treat prediabetes by living a healthy lifestyle such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure. If you have already been diagnosed with prediabetes, it is reversible and it is important to monitor your blood sugar levels to keep them in the normal range and see your doctor regularly to prevent prediabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes. If you have any more questions or think you may have prediabetes, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
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