What is prediabetes? Learn about the risk factors, how to recognize the symptoms, and when to contact your healthcare provider with Diathrive.
Are you wondering if you have prediabetes? If so, something has caused your concern. Maybe you have a relative or friend with prediabetes or diabetes. Maybe diabetes runs in your family, or your doctor has told you that you are at risk for diabetes. Perhaps you are noticing changes in your health that concern you.
If you are worried that you or someone you know has prediabetes, you are doing exactly what you need to do -- asking questions and seeking information. There is a large community of health care providers to support you with early testing, diagnosis, and management. Plus, online informational resources like Diathrive can help you stay informed every step of the way.
What is diabetes?
Let’s first review the basics of diabetes.
Diabetes mellitus is the scientific term for diabetes and it refers to a group of diseases that are related to how your body uses glucose.
When you eat, food is digested with the help of hormones and enzymes to become the energy your body needs. Glucose is the main energy source for your body. Insulin is a hormone made in your pancreas that allows cells to use glucose. Insulin also regulates the amount of glucose in your blood.
Diabetes happens when your body cannot efficiently convert glucose into energy, causing a buildup of sugar (glucose) in your blood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018 an estimated 34.2 million people in the United States were living with diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed). The underlying cause of diabetes is different for each type, but all types cause a buildup of sugar in your blood that can cause serious health problems.
Type 1 Diabetes occurs when an autoimmune condition causes your body’s immune system to attack and destroy the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 and is thought to be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Although type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or does not use it efficiently. This is the most common form of diabetes and is caused by multiple factors such as family history/genetics and/or lifestyle such as obesity and lack of physical activity. Type 2 diabetes most often occurs in adults.
Prediabetes occurs when someone has higher than normal blood sugar levels, but it isn’t high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. People who have been diagnosed with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, but it is often not inevitable. Changes in lifestyle like adjustments to eating habits, exercising, and staying at a healthy weight can bring your blood sugar back to normal.
Gestational diabetes is caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy and genetic factors. Gestational diabetes often goes away after the baby is born.
Prediabetes Risk Factors
The cause of prediabetes is not well understood, but there are some risk factors that are common among people with prediabetes.
These risk factors are the same as those for type 2 diabetes, and include:
Family history. Your risk of prediabetes increases if you have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes.
Lifestyle. There are several risk factors associated with lifestyle:
Weight and waist size. Being overweight is one of the primary risk factors commonly associated with prediabetes. Fatty tissue is resistant to insulin, so the more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant you could become to insulin. Waist size also seems to coincide with prediabetes, with insulin resistance going up for men with 40 inch or larger waists, and women with 35 inch or larger waists
Diet. A poor diet can be a contributor to prediabetes. You have a higher risk of prediabetes if you eat a lot of red meat, processed meat, and high-sugar drinks.
Inactivity. Exercise tells your body that it is time to turn sugar into fuel. It stands to reason that inactivity is a risk factor for prediabetes.
Tobacco use. Smoking may increase insulin resistance.
Age. You can develop prediabetes at any age, but the risk for prediabetes goes up after age 45.
Gestational diabetes. People who have gestational diabetes, and their children, have a higher risk for prediabetes.
Race or ethnicity. No one knows why, but Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Asian Americans have a higher risk for prediabetes.
Sleep apnea. People who have sleep apnea have an increased risk of insulin resistance.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition causes irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth, and obesity. People with polycystic ovary syndrome have an increased risk of prediabetes.
Do you have any of the risk factors described above? Have there been changes in your body that concern you?
Symptoms of Prediabetes
Remember, only your health care provider can diagnose diabetes. If you have one or more of the symptoms below, it is best to see a doctor.
The most common symptoms of prediabetes are frequent urination, excessive thirst, excessive hunger, excessive fatigue, and blurry vision.
Frequent urination. When your kidneys are working hard to filter out excess sugar from your blood you have to urinate more often. Health care providers call this condition polyuria.
Excessive thirst. An imbalance in part of your body causes imbalances in other areas. Because your kidneys are working hard to filter out excess sugar from your blood, you feel very thirsty. Uncontrollable thirst happens when your kidneys are using lots of water in your body to filter out excess sugar from your blood. Health care providers call this polydipsia.
Excessive hunger/fatigue. Like excessive urination and excessive thirst, excessive hunger and fatigue are closely related. If you are living with diabetes or are prediabetic, it is difficult for your body to convert glucose from your food to energy. Lack of available nutrients in your system causes you to feel the need to eat constantly. Health care providers call this polyphagia. Feeling tired or fatigued goes hand-in-hand with feeling hungry. If your body is not getting enough nutrients from food, you feel extremely tired, even if you are getting a good night’s sleep.
Blurry vision. High blood sugar can cause damage to the vessels in your eyes and cause blurred vision.
When To See Your Healthcare Provider
Do you have one more of the risk factors and/or symptoms described above? If you do, it is best to visit your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and possibly get a blood test for high glucose levels.
If you are over 40 years old and have siblings with diabetes (even if you don’t have symptoms), you should get routine blood glucose checks.
A blood test will tell you if you have normal levels of glucose in your blood. If your blood glucose level is higher or lower than what is considered normal, you could have prediabetes or diabetes. Because everyone is unique, normal blood sugar levels can vary slightly for everyone. Your healthcare provider will determine what is normal for you.
Your health care provider may also order an A1C test that measures your average blood sugar level over the past three months. An A1c test gives you a better idea of your blood sugar over time. Normal A1c level ranges from 4.5 to 5.6 percent for someone who doesn’t have prediabetes or diabetes.
Treatment for Prediabetes
The good news is that progression of prediabetes into type 2 diabetes is not inevitable. There are things you can do to bring your blood sugar back to normal and possibly avoid developing type 2 diabetes.
Most of these strategies focus on living a healthy lifestyle. If you review the risk factors above related to lifestyle, you can easily see the connection to these treatment strategies.
It comes down to four things: eat healthy, be active, lose weight, and stop smoking.
Eat healthy. Low-calorie, high-fiber foods are the key. You don’t have to compromise taste or proper nutrition. Healthy food habits are good for everyone.
Be Active. Set a goal each day to be active. Plan to spend 75 to 150 minutes each week doing moderate to vigorous activity. Choose what is right for you from walking, sports, dance classes, or whatever works for you.
Lose weight. Losing weight reduces your risk for prediabetes. With healthy eating and an active lifestyle, you may find that losing weight is easier than you thought.
Stop smoking. This is a good idea for everyone!
You may also be prescribed medication for prediabetes including metformin, or medicines to help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. Your healthcare provider will know what is best for you.
In summary, the most important thing to know is that prediabetes doesn’t always mean you will develop type 2 diabetes. Knowing the risk factors and symptoms of prediabetes will help you better monitor your health.
If you do have prediabetes, lifestyle changes and sometimes medication can help keep your blood sugar levels from rising to the point that you develop type 2 diabetes.