Diagnosing, Treating and Preventing Prediabetes-- By Liza Barnes & Nicole Nichols, Health Educators
Before developing the serious health condition of type 2 diabetes, a person will almost always have prediabetes first. But prediabetes is a condition without symptoms, meaning that many people can have it without even knowing it. Left unchecked, prediabetes can lead to full-blown type 2 diabetes, which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Luckily, prediabetes can be diagnosed with a simple test, and treatment can prevent many health problems and complications. Here's what you need to know to control prediabetes before it gets control of you.
Under normal circumstances, the glucose (sugar) levels in your blood rise after you eat a meal or snack. In response, your body produces a hormone called insulin, which is needed for the body to convert the glucose in your bloodstream into usable energy. But if insulin isn’t available, or if the body isn’t using it correctly, your blood glucose will remain elevated, and that can be harmful to your body. This is a condition known as diabetes. People who have higher-than-normal blood glucose levels that aren’t quite high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes have prediabetes. In the past, individuals with prediabetes would have been considered "borderline diabetic."
Who's at Risk?
Over 50 million Americans over the age of 20 have prediabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. If you have any of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including uncontrollable factors like age and race, and/or controllable risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity, then you are also at risk for prediabetes.
Most of the time, prediabetes is asymptomatic (shows no symptoms), but some people will experience some general diabetes symptoms like extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue and/or blurred vision.
If you fall into any high-risk categories or experience any of the symptoms above, visit your health care provider for a blood glucose test as soon as you can. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial steps, as they can prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and its serious health consequences.
Testing & Diagnosis
There are two tests commonly used to diagnose diabetes and prediabetes: a fasting plasma glucose (FPG test) and an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). Some people have both IFG and IGT.
The FPG test will measure your blood glucose level after an eight-hour (overnight) fast. A result less than 100 mg/dL is considered normal, but anything above that level is diagnosed as "impaired fasting glucose" (IFG). Between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes, while 126 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes.
The OGTT will measure your blood sugar after a fast and then again after drinking a glucose-rich beverage. Two hours after the beverage, a result less than 140 mg/dL is considered normal, but anything above that level is diagnosed as "impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). Between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL is considered prediabetes, while 200 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes, <pagebreak>
Treatment & Prevention
While prediabetes in itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, many people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years.
If you have prediabetes, realize that you’re fortunate to have found out while there is still a lot you can do to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. Here are some preventative measures:
Lose weight. In a study of more that 3,000 people with pre-diabetes, a five to seven percent weight loss (about 10 pounds for a 200-pound person) lowered the incidence of type 2 diabetes by nearly 60 percent. Follow the SparkDiet to reach your weight loss goal.
Get active. Physical activity (and its accompanying weight loss) will lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and boost you health in other ways too. Try walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Read about exercising with diabetes for more tips.
Eat sensibly. Cut excess calories, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat from your diet and you will cut your risk of diabetes. Include more healthy fats, fiber, whole grains, fruits and veggies, using the Nutrition Resource Center as a guide.
Quit smoking. Smokers are 50 to 90 percent more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers. If you smoke, taking steps to quit today can reduce your risk of serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes.
Drink moderately. Moderate drinking (no more than one drink daily for women or two drinks daily for men) has a protective effect against diabetes, but avoid heavy drinking.
If you have prediabetes, work closely with your doctor to create a plan of sensible lifestyle changes that will work for you. The complications of diabetes—heart disease, stroke, blindness, and more—can be avoided by taking these proactive steps today.
For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Amy Poetker, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator.