If your doctor has told you that you have prediabetes, you are not alone. An estimated 41 million Americans aged 40-79 have prediabetes. We hope this webpage will help to answer some of your questions about the condition, but please do not hesitate to make an appointment to discuss any of your questions or concerns with our doctors.
Prediabetes is a condition associated with a higher than normal blood sugar level, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. However, if no lifestyle changes are made, prediabetes is likely to become type 2 diabetes in 10 years or fewer. It is a serious condition, too, as the long-term damage associated with type 2 diabetes (especially heart disease) may already have started. If changes to your lifestyle are made, it is possible to avoid developing diabetes altogether!
Progression into type 2 diabetes is the most serious consequence of untreated prediabetes.
Type 2 diabetes complications include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
Why do I have Prediabetes?
When you eat carbohydrates, your digestive system breaks them down into sugar which is then absorbed and released into your bloodstream to provide energy to your body’s cells. In order for your cells to take up this sugar, insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas) must be present. When you have prediabetes, your body has a hard time using the insulin you produce, so cells cannot take up the sugar to use as energy. This means the sugar accumulates in your blood and leads to higher than normal blood sugar levels.
To combat the high blood sugar levels, your pancreas produces more insulin. Although this helps in the short-term, over time your pancreas becomes exhausted and cannot produce enough to overcome the resistance to insulin your body has developed. At this point blood sugars rise even more and type 2 diabetes is diagnosed.
Weight gain and an inactive lifestyle can increase insulin resistance. Also, those with a family history of type 2 diabetes are more likely to have a higher insulin resistance.
What are the symptoms of Prediabetes?
Usually, prediabetes has no symptoms and is diagnosed based on a routine blood test. Sometimes, darkened areas of skin (a condition called acanthosis nigricans) may be present suggesting you are at risk for diabetes. Common areas that may be affected include the neck, armpits, elbows, knees and knuckles.
Ask your doctor about blood glucose screening if you have any risk factors for prediabetes, such as:
- You’re overweight, with a body mass index above 25.
- You’re inactive.
- You’re age 45 or older.
- You have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
- You have high blood pressure.
- You regularly sleep fewer than six hours or more than nine hours a night.
- You’re African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian-American or a Pacific Islander.
- You developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds (4.1 kilograms).
- You have polycystic ovary syndrome, a common condition characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity.
- Your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) is below 35 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) — 0.9 millimoles per liter or mmol/L — or your triglyceride level is above 250 mg/dL (2.83 mmol/L).
What can I do?
The short answer? LOTS! Prediabetes should be seen as a call to action. You CAN improve your health and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and all the serious health complications that go with it. With the appropriate lifestyle modifications, you may be able to bring your blood sugar level back to normal.
The recently completed Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study conclusively showed that people with prediabetes can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes by making changes in their diet and increasing their level of physical activity. They may even be able to return their blood glucose levels to the normal range.
While the DPP also showed that some medications may delay the development of diabetes, diet and exercise worked better. Moderate exercise of 30 minutes a day, coupled with a 7% reduction in body weight produced a 58% reduction in diabetes.
To start eating healthier, it’s not so much “what” you should eat, but how much. If you are overweight, your first and foremost goal should be to lose weight by controlling portion size. Along with weight loss, you should aim to increase your physical activity, especially if you aren’t getting any regular exercise now. By exercising, you are helping your body to use the insulin it produces to change the food you eat into energy. This will help keep your blood glucose lower. Physical activity will also help reduce insulin resistance.
Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss a healthy eating and exercise plan today. Your health is in your hands!
Read more on Prediabetes at these reputable websites: