Prediabetes means your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels are higher than normal. When your blood glucose levels reach a certain level, you have diabetes. This is a disease that occurs when your body doesn’t make or use the hormone insulin properly. It causes too much glucose to build up in the blood. Too much glucose in your blood can be harmful to your body over time.
Prediabetes is 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. If you have prediabetes, you are at much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You are also at risk of developing other health conditions, including heart disease or stroke.
The good news is that, if you have prediabetes, you can prevent or delay the onset of full-blown type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle changes. These include eating a healthy diet, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly.
What Causes Prediabetes?
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into cells for use as energy. If you have prediabetes, the cells in your body don’t respond normally to insulin. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually, your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes—and type 2 diabetes down the road.
Signs & Symptoms
You can have prediabetes for years but have no clear symptoms, so it often goes undetected until serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes show up. It’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes. You are at risk for prediabetes if any of the following 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 had a baby who 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 cholesterol level (“good” cholesterol) 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 ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Race and ethnicity are also a factor: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk. You can get a simple blood sugar test to find out if you have prediabetes. Ask your doctor if you should be tested.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes can be delayed and even prevented. Usually, this is done by losing weight if you are overweight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. The longer you have prediabetes or diabetes, the more health problems you may experience. So even just delaying the onset of the disease can help your health. If you have prediabetes, the best way to avoid developing type 2 diabetes is by making changes in your lifestyle.
If you are overweight, losing just 7 percent of your starting weight can help delay or prevent diabetes. That means if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 14 pounds can make a difference. Weight loss also helps lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Exercise is an important part of diabetes prevention. Your exercise routine should include 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 times a week. This could include brisk walking, riding a bike, or swimming. Ask your doctor what exercise level is safe for you.
Follow a healthy diet
Eat foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins such as fish or chicken, and low-fat dairy. Don’t eat a lot of processed, fried, or sugary foods. Eat smaller portions to reduce the number of calories you take in each day. Drink water instead of sweetened drinks.
Diabetes medicines are not as effective as diet and exercise. However, your doctor might prescribe medicine if you are at high risk for diabetes and have other medical problems. These could include obesity, a high triglyceride level, a low HDL cholesterol level, or high blood pressure. Ask your doctor or nurse if there’s a CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program offered in your community or find one here. The best time to prevent type 2 diabetes is now.