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How to Identify and Prevent Prediabetes

September 14, 2018

Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health problems, but it’s not a disease that occurs overnight. Instead, people generally go through a period called “prediabetes” before true diabetes takes hold. If you’re diagnosed with prediabetes, it’s possible to turn the condition around and prevent diabetes. This is why it’s important to understand the tests and lifestyle changes that can help diagnose and treat it.

What is Prediabetes?

Essentially, a diagnosis of prediabetes means your blood sugar is higher than normal but isn’t high enough to be considered true diabetes. Normally, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin to help cells absorb sugar from the blood after you eat. When this system doesn’t work, either because your cells become resistant to insulin or you simply don’t produce enough of the hormone, your blood sugar rises.

Prediabetes has no clear symptoms, though some people can develop dark patches on their skin around their elbows, knees, neck, armpits and knuckles. There are a number of known risk factors for prediabetes, however, and they’re the same factors seen with diabetes, including:

  • Age — risk goes up after age 45.
  • Weight and waist size — weight is a lead indicator for prediabetes. Excess fat tissue, especially around the waist, can lead to insulin resistance. Waist size above 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women can indicate insulin resistance.
  • Family history — the risk is higher if you have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes.
  • Race — prediabetes is more prevalent among African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Do I Have Prediabetes?

Doctors diagnose prediabetes through one or more blood tests. The tests your doctor chooses can be related to your risk factors. The most common tests are:

  • Fasting plasma glucose test — this test is often part of an annual wellness exam and is given after you’ve fasted for at least 8 hours. Blood sugar levels of 100-125 indicate prediabetes.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test — after taking the fasting plasma glucose test, mentioned above, you’ll drink a sugary glucose solution. Then your blood will be drawn one hour and two hours after. Blood sugar levels of 140-199 after the second test indicate prediabetes.
  • Hemoglobin A1C — also called an average blood sugar test, the A1C assesses average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. Results between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent indicate prediabetes.
Stopping or Slowing Prediabetes

Medication is one option physicians turn to in treating prediabetes, but making some lifestyle changes can also help slow prediabetes from turning into type 2 diabetes, or even reverse it. A national study called the Diabetes Prevention Program has found making the following changes can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • Losing weight — if you are overweight, losing even 5 percent to 10 percent of your body weight can make a difference.
  • Boosting exercise — aim for 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, whether that’s a bike ride, a swim or even a brisk walk. Check with your physician first though, before starting your exercise plan.
  • Eating healthier — cut back on sugar and starchy foods and change up your meals with lower-fat protein, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber-rich foods also can help you feel full without overeating.
Keep Learning About Prediabetes

A diagnosis of prediabetes can be seen as a warning sign of more serious potential problems. Learning more about the condition can give you tools for slowing down or even stopping a progression to type 2 diabetes. The following resources can be a good place to start: