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Are you pre-diabetic? How can you tell?

Important Points:

  • Prediabetes
  • Fasting sugars
  • Chronic diseases
  • Early signs
  • Exercise

Are you pre-diabetic?
How can you tell?

Of all the chronic diseases currently known to mankind, diabetes is the most common with well over 88% of patients being prediabetic without knowing it. The onset of diabetes starts years before it becomes full blown and starts affecting one’s health. How can you know if you are on the path to being a full-blown diabetic? What can you do to arrest and reverse this process?

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a “pre-diagnosis” of diabetes—a warning sign of sorts. It happens when your blood glucose level (blood sugar level) is higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetic.

Prediabetes is an indication that you  could develop type 2 diabetes (T2D) if you don’t make some immediate and lasting lifestyle changes.

During the prediabetes phase, your pancreas still produces enough insulin in response to ingested carbohydrates. The insulin is less effective at removing the sugar from the bloodstream, though, so your blood sugar remains high. This condition is called insulin resistance, and during this stage, you are accumulating microvascular damage.

What are the indications that you might have it?

Diabetes develops very gradually; it could take up to several years. It follows that when you’re in the prediabetes stage, you may not have any symptoms at all. You may, however, notice that:

  • you’re hungrier than normal
  • you’re losing weight, despite eating more
  • you’re thirstier than normal
  • you have to go to the bathroom more frequently
  • you’re more tired than usual

All of these symptoms are typically associated with diabetes, so if you’re in the early stages of diabetes, you may notice them.

What are the risk factors lead to prediabetes?

It is not very clear what exactly causes the insulin process to go askew in some people. There are several risk factors, though, that make it more likely that you’ll develop pre-diabetes. These are the same risk factors related to the development of type 2 diabetes:

  • Weight: Being overweight (have a body mass index—a BMI—of higher than 25) increases your risk for developing prediabetes. This is especially true if you carry a lot of extra weight in your abdomen. The extra fat cells can cause your body to become more insulin resistant.
  • Being inactive: This often goes hand-in-hand with being overweight. If you aren’t physically active, you’re more likely to develop prediabetes.
  • Having a close family member with type 2 diabetes: Prediabetes has a hereditary factor, so if someone in your close family has (or had) it, you are more likely to develop it.
  • Race/ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups are more likely to develop prediabetes, including African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.
  • Age: The older you are, the more at risk you are for developing prediabetes. At age 45, your risk starts to rise, and after age 65, your risk increases exponentially.
  • Gestational diabetes: If you developed diabetes while you were pregnant, that increases your risk for developing prediabetes later on.
  • Other health problems: High blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol (the “bad” LDL cholesterol) increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): It is quite likely that if you have PCOS, you have insulin resistance and are prediabetic.
  • Hypothyroidism low thyroid function (not enough circulating thyroid hormone) and prediabetes together more than doubles your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes in comparison to individuals with normal thyroid function.

How can you know for sure?

You should visit your doctor who may want to test your blood glucose levels if you’re overweight (have a body mass index—BMI—of over 25) and if you have one or more of the risk factors listed above.

If your fasting blood test indicates that you have prediabetes, your doctor may want to do an A1C blood test. On the other hand, your doctor may skip the fasting blood sugar test and go straight to the A1C blood test, which provides information about your average blood sugar levels over a 3 month period. These results are stated as a percentage:

  • Normal = below 5.7%
  • Prediabetes = between 5.7% and 6.4%
  • Diabetes = 6.5% or higher.

 It is advisable to start testing your blood glucose levels every three years beginning when you’re 45, even if you are not overweight and do not have any of the risk factors. That will ensure you catch any anomaly at an early stage as the risk of developing prediabetes (and therefore type 2 diabetes) increases with age. 

What to do if you are prediabetic?

Serious lifestyle changes are effective in preventing type 2 diabetes, after you’ve been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. Your doctor will give you advice on what you need to do, but here are some additional things you can do on your own:

  • Assess Your Food Choices:  Get a healthy food plan is to assure that you are controlling your blood glucose level by keeping it in a healthy, normal range. Your meal plan should be adjusted to be comfortable and satisfying to you taking into account your overall health, physical activity, and what you like to eat.
  • Exercise regularly:  During exercise, your body burns up more glucose, thus lowering your blood glucose level. Also when you exercise, your body doesn’t need as much insulin to transport the glucose; your body becomes less insulin resistant. Since your body isn’t using insulin well when you have prediabetes, lowering insulin resistance is a very good thing.
    It is recommended that you do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week—that’s 30 minutes five days a week. You can get that through activities such as walking, bike riding, or swimming.
  • Lose weight. 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.
  • Metformin: Medication might be recommended for people who are at very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes after being diagnosed with prediabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, Metformin should be the only medication used to prevent Type 2 diabetes. It works by keeping the liver from making more glucose when you don’t need it allowing your blood glucose level to stay in a better range.
  • Some good news

If you have prediabetes, you should know you are definitely not alone. In 2015, it was estimated that 84.1 million Americans age 18 and older suffered from this condition. That is a whopping 1 in 3 Americans!

Being prediabetic doesn’t mean you will certainly develop diabetes, but it is however a warning of what could lie ahead. People with prediabetes have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes as opposed to someone with normal blood sugar levels. Those chances increase if you don’t make any healthy changes to your diet or activity habits.

It is not all bleak though…. It can be reversed and you can stop the progression to diabetes. You can take control of your health by making the right choices and actively monitoring your blood sugar to ensure you do not slip into a prediabetic state or develop into a full diabetic.

References:

  1. Healthline (2018): Understanding Borderline Diabetes: Signs, Symptoms, and More. Retrieved from

https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/borderline-diabetes-know-the-signs

https://familydoctor.org/condition/prediabetes/