Key Points about Prediabetes
- Prediabetes, or impaired glucose tolerance, is a serious medical condition characterized by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels.
- Individuals with prediabetes can no longer process sugar (glucose) effectively, causing glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream.
- Blood sugar levels in prediabetes are not yet high enough to qualify as type 2 diabetes but put individuals at a highly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Being overweight, being over the age of 45 and having low levels of physical activity put you at an increased risk of prediabetes.
- Physical activity and weight loss may reduce your risk of developing prediabetes.
Prediabetes is a serious but reversible health condition that affects more than 1 in 3 American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People with prediabetes have blood sugar levels that are higher than normal. These individuals do not yet qualify as having type 2 diabetes, although they are at a very high risk of progressing to the condition.
Talk to your doctor if you are overweight, if you are over the age of 45, or if you have a low level of physical activity, as these factors put you at an increased risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Individuals with prediabetes can no longer process sugar (glucose) effectively, causing glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream.
The exact cause of this impaired glucose processing is unclear, but is associated with a lack of exercise, high levels of body fat, and diets high in processed meats and sugary drinks.
When your body digests food, it breaks it into glucose that enters your bloodstream. A hormone called insulin, which is secreted from your pancreas when you eat, then transports the sugar to your body’s cells, allowing it to leave the bloodstream and enter your cells.
In prediabetes, this process is disrupted, as your pancreas either fails to produce enough insulin, or your cells become resistant to insulin’s effects. These disruptions lead to a higher amount of glucose in the bloodstream, as glucose fails to enter your cells.
The resulting high blood sugar levels put one in a state of prediabetes.
Prediabetes risk factors
Risk factors for prediabetes include:
- Being overweight
- Being over the age of 45
- A diet high in red and processed meats and sugary beverages
- Having an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes
- Having low levels of physical activity
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome
Most people with prediabetes have no symptoms. Blood sugar levels and glucose tolerance must be tested to diagnose prediabetes.
In addition to having an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, individuals with prediabetes are also more likely to develop heart disease, experience a stroke or have kidney damage.
Individuals who progress to type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of:
- Kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Engaging in regular physical activity, having a healthy diet, and losing weight if you are overweight can reduce your risk of developing prediabetes.
Prediabetes may be diagnosed by:
- Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test — This test conveys your average blood sugar level for the past few months.
- Fasting blood sugar test — This test is administered after fasting for at least eight hours.
- Oral glucose tolerance test — This method is used primarily to diagnose diabetes during pregnancy.
Treating prediabetes means taking steps to reduce your blood sugar.
Methods to reduce blood sugar include lifestyle interventions such as:
- Implementing a healthier diet
- Incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine
- Losing excessive weight
- Quitting smoking
Patients at a particularly high risk of developing type 2 diabetes may be prescribed medications such as metformin.
When to seek care
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), adults over the age of 45 should undergo blood glucose screenings.
Individuals who have one or more additional risk factors may want to begin prediabetes screening earlier.
Treating prediabetes means making ongoing efforts to keep your blood sugar low. Your doctor can help set up a more detailed plan of action to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.