Understanding Prediabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one in three or 96 million people in the United States aged 18 or older have prediabetes.

What is prediabetes?

For someone with prediabetes, their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.

When we eat our body breaks down food and turns it into glucose – or “sugar”. Our blood distributes the sugar to our muscles, tissues and cells to give our body energy. With prediabetes, and in type 2 diabetes, this process does not work the way it’s supposed to.

When the sugar content in the bloodstream increases, the pancreas creates insulin. Insulin helps the body take in sugar from the blood and move the sugar along to where it needs to go in the body. When a person has prediabetes, the cells in the body do not always respond to the insulin. This is called insulin resistance. This insulin resistance leads to an increase in blood sugar levels, and is the foundational cause of prediabetes.

Around 80% of those who are prediabetic do not know it because prediabetes generally does not have noticeable symptoms. In fact, many people do not have any symptoms until the prediabetes has already progressed to type 2 diabetes, and in turn has caused serious health problems, such as stroke and heart disease.

Fortunately, prediabetes is easy to diagnose. It takes a simple blood sugar test. Fasting blood sugar under 100 is normal, 100 to 125 is considered prediabetes, and fasting blood sugar 126 or above reflects actual diabetes.

Common risk factors for diabetes include being overweight, being 35 years or older, having a close family member with diabetes, and having a sedentary lifestyle. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders and some Asian Americans are at a greater risk for developing prediabetes. It is important to talk with your primary care provider about your risk factors and how you can prevent prediabetes.

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

Prediabetes becoming type 2 diabetes does not have to be a sure thing. With simple lifestyle changes, it is possible to prevent the progression of prediabetes to actual type 2 diabetes.

  • Lose a small amount of body weight. The CDC recommends those with prediabetes lose 5% to 7% of their total body weight.
  • Get moving. Regular physical activity is important for overall health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. Even small things make a difference. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park further away to increase the number of steps. And, do yardwork, gardening or other projects around the house. If watching TV or sitting for long periods of time at work, make a point to get up every 30 minutes to move around and stretch.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Cutting back on sugary foods and sweetened beverages can help to reduce your blood sugar levels. Aim for whole-grains, healthy proteins and plenty of vegetables.

Making small changes can help to reduce your overall risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Consulting a doctor is a great place to start if you are unsure where to begin.