Prediabetes means that your blood glucose levels (also called blood sugar) are higher than usual. When your blood glucose levels reach a certain level, you have diabetes.
This disease occurs when your body does not make or use the hormone insulin correctly. This causes too much glucose to build up in your blood, which can be harmful to your body over time.
The good news is that if you have prediabetes, you can prevent or delay the onset of full-blown type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes. These include eating a healthy diet, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes occurs when your blood glucose levels are too high, but not high enough, to be called diabetes. People who develop type 2 diabetes usually have prediabetes first.
Your doctor may also refer to prediabetes by other names, such as glucose intolerance (IGT), which means a higher than average blood sugar level after a meal. Altered fasting glucose (IFG) means a higher than normal blood sugar level in the morning before eating the first meal.
If you have prediabetes, you have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You are also at risk of developing other health conditions, such as heart disease or stroke.
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Symptoms of prediabetes
Prediabetes has no apparent symptoms; in fact, it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. Some people may experience conditions associated with insulin resistance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome and acanthosis nigricans, which involve the development of dark, thick, and velvety patches of skin. This discoloration usually occurs around:
If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, it is essential to see your doctor if you experience:
- increased thirst
- increased urination, especially at night
- blurry vision
- sores or cuts that don’t heal
These are typical symptoms of type 2 diabetes and may indicate that your prediabetes has progressed to type 2 diabetes. A doctor can perform a series of tests to confirm this.
What Causes Prediabetes?
Prediabetes occurs when the insulin in your body does not work as well. Insulin helps your body’s cells use glucose from your blood. When insulin doesn’t work correctly, too much glucose builds up in the blood.
High glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves. This increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, neuropathy, and other health problems.
You are at risk for prediabetes if any of the following conditions are true:
- You are overweight or obese.
- You have a parent, brother, or sister who has diabetes.
- You had diabetes during pregnancy (called gestational diabetes ) or a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds at birth.
- You are African American, Native American, Latin American, or Asian / Pacific Islander.
- You have high blood pressure (above 140/90 mm Hg).
- Your HDL (“good” cholesterol) level is too low (less than 40 mg per dL for men or 50 mg per dL for women), or your triglyceride level is higher than 250 mg per dL.
- You are a woman who has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
How is prediabetes diagnosed?
Your doctor can do a blood test to check for prediabetes. You may want to test your “fasting blood sugar” first. The ranges of the results of a fasting blood sugar test are:
- Normal = between 70 and 99 mg per dL
- Prediabetes = between 100 and 125 mg per dL
- Diabetes = greater than 126 mg per dL.
If your fasting blood test shows that you have prediabetes, your doctor may want to take an A1C blood test. This test provides information about your average blood sugar levels for the past three months. Results are reported as a percentage:
- Normal = below 5.7%
- Prediabetes = between 5.7% and 6.4%
- Diabetes = 6.5% or more.
It is recommended to get a diabetes test if you are 45 years or older. You should also get tested if you are under 45 and have any of the risk factors listed above.
Prediabetes can be prevented and reversed.
Prediabetes can be delayed, prevented, and even reversed. This is usually done by losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. If you have prediabetes and do not make lifestyle changes, you will likely develop type 2 diabetes in about ten years.
The longer you have prediabetes or diabetes, you will experience more health problems. Here are some tips to prevent or reverse prediabetes:
Eat healthy diet foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins like fish or chicken, and low-fat dairy products. Don’t eat a lot of processed, fried, or sugary foods. Eat smaller portions to reduce the number of calories you eat each day. Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Key points: Prioritize foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and high-fiber foods, such as whole grains. Eat less than 1500 mg of sodium a day and limit to 1 drink or serving per day of foods with added sugar. The Mediterranean diet follows these principles.
- Lose weight
If you are overweight, losing just 7 percent of your starting weight can help delay or prevent diabetes. (4) That means that if you weigh 75 kg, losing 5 kg and a half can make a difference. Losing weight also helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Consult with a nutrition professional. Your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist or diabetes educator to help you change your eating and exercise habits.
- Exercise regularly
Exercise is an essential part of diabetes prevention. Your exercise routine should include 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five times a week. This could be brisk walking, biking, or swimming.
If you feel like you don’t have time to go to a sports center, try some ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily schedules such as biking to work, walking instead of riding the bus or driving,
participating in recreational sports with partners or friends.
Some people take medicine to help prevent or delay diabetes. Ask your doctor if this is a good option for you.
- Take small steps
Changing to a healthy lifestyle takes time and effort. But if you have prediabetes, you don’t need to make all the changes at once. Start small, like switching from drinking soda to drinking water. Once you’ve made the change, celebrate your progress.
Then move on to the following change you need to make. It may take a while, but keep moving forward. Your lifestyle will continue to improve, as will your health.
Low carb diet
Various research suggests that a low-carbohydrate diet improves blood glucose control and insulin resistance and may be an effective method of reversing prediabetes. (1,2,3)
This diet is based on reducing carbohydrates to less than 120 – 140 grams and is helpful in the short term. According to studies, lower levels of carbohydrates can help people with type 2 diabetes. While it does not address prediabetes specifically, it may be fair to assume that the same would be true for those with prediabetes.
Low-carb diets may not be recommended for people with high cholesterol, kidney, or heart disease. Talk to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.
If you have prediabetes, the long-term damage from diabetes may already be beginning, especially to the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. However, there is good news. The progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes is preventable.
Eating healthy foods, making physical activity part of your daily routine, and maintaining a healthy weight can help bring your blood sugar back to normal and reverse prediabetes.