Type 2 diabetes doesn’t always happen all at once. In most cases, people become pre-diabetic long before they develop full-blown diabetes. Getting diagnosed and treated for pre-diabetes is important. Research shows that with pre-diabetes, blood sugar should be managed. If these preventative steps aren’t taken, long-term damage to the heart and circulatory system may result, among other complications.
What is Pre-Diabetes?
If your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diabetes, you are considered pre-diabetic. People with pre-diabetes are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes within 10 years or less.
A pre-diabetic doesn’t process glucose (sugar) optimally, causing glucose to begin accumulating in the blood. Normally, the hormone insulin allows glucose to move out of the bloodstream to fuel your body’s cells. Pre-diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, and/or the body becomes resistant to insulin’s action.
Your doctor can easily screen you for pre-diabetes blood sugar levels with some simple tests:
- Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): After drinking a sugary drink and waiting two hours, a normal blood glucose level is below 140 mg/dl. Levels of 140 to 199 mg/dl indicate pre-diabetes, while levels of 200 mg/dl or above reveal diabetes.
- Fasting plasma glucose (FPG): Normal fasting blood glucose is lower than 100 Mg/dl. Levels between 100 and 125 mg/dl indicate pre-diabetes. A result of 126 mg/dl or higher indicates full diabetes.
Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes pre-diabetes. Genetics clearly plays a part, and researchers have identified specific genes that are related to insulin resistance. Here are some environmental and genetic risk factors for pre-diabetes:
- Age (risk increases with age)
- Ethnicity (African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk.)
- Family medical history
- Gestational diabetes
- Inadequate sleep
- Polycystic ovary syndrome.
Some other health conditions are associated with diabetes. You may want to be screened for pre-diabetes if you have:
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL (“good” cholesterol).
Pre-diabetes symptoms are often nonexistent, which is why screening is important if you have risk factors for this condition. If a pre-diabetic does, however, experience pre-diabetes symptoms, these may include:
- Blurred vision
- Darkened areas of skin in areas such as armpits, elbows, knees, knuckles and neck
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst.
The good news for pre-diabetics is that treatment can help delay or even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Even better news: For the average pre-diabetic, treatment only involves healthy lifestyle changes. Here are some of the typical ways doctors recommend treating pre-diabetes:
- Exercise: Medical professionals suggest 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise, at least five days a week. The activity can be as simple as brisk walking, riding a bike or swimming.
- Healthy pre-diabetes diet: A pre-diabetes diet contains fiber, fruits, lean proteins and vegetables. Fats, calories and junk foods are limited, and whole grains are favored over processed grain products in a pre-diabetes diet.
- Weight loss: If you are overweight, losing only 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight can significantly improve your pre-diabetes symptoms, as well as reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
If you’re at high risk for developing diabetes, or your pre-diabetes is getting worse, your doctor may also provide medication to protect your long-term health.
American Diabetes Association. (2010). Pre-diabetes FAQs. Retrieved March 21, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/pre-diabetes/pre-diabetes-faqs.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Prediabetes. Retrieved March 21, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/prediabetes/DS00624.