Prediabetes: What to Know

How many of you know someone who has diabetes? What about prediabetes? If you raised your hand to the first question but not the second, you might want to change your vote. Chances are, someone you know — a friend, a colleague, a neighbor, maybe even a family member — has it. But even he may not know it. The statistics are loud and clear, though: 86 million people in the United States have prediabetes[1], so there’s very likely someone you know who has this condition.

What is prediabetes?
By definition, prediabetes means that your blood sugars are too high to be called normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. It’s a little like being in limbo. By this, I mean that you can take steps to halt the progression or conversion of prediabetes to Type 2 diabetes[2] — and that’s the good news. The not so great news is that not taking those steps means that there’s a very high likelihood of getting Type 2 diabetes in the near future.

What are the symptoms of prediabetes?
Most people who have this condition probably don’t know they have it. At least, there are usually no symptoms. For the most part, you can’t tell if your blood sugar is a little higher than it should be.

How do you know if you have prediabetes, then?
Finding out if you have prediabetes means a trip to your doctor’s office. There are three ways to diagnose prediabetes, and they all involve a blood test:

• Fasting plasma glucose: A blood glucose result between 100 mg/dl and 125 mg/dl after having fasted for at least 8 hours prior indicates prediabetes.

• Oral glucose tolerance test: A two-hour blood glucose result between 140 mg/dl and 199 mg/dl after having a sweet drink containing 75 grams of carbohydrate suggests prediabetes.

• HbA1c: A blood test that measures your average blood glucose over the past 2–3 months; 5.7% to 6.4% indicates prediabetes.

If you have prediabetes, your doctor should check you for Type 2 diabetes every one to two years.

Are you at risk for getting prediabetes?
The risk factors for prediabetes are the same as those for Type 2 diabetes, including the following:

• Being overweight or obese
• Not getting enough physical activity
• Eating a diet high in red and processed meat and sugary drinks
• Having a family history of Type 2 diabetes
• Being over 45 years old
• Being of African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander descent
• Having a history of gestational diabetes[3]

Can you do anything about prediabetes?
Yes! Research shows that a number of lifestyle factors can greatly reduce your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes. Here’s how:

Lose 5% to 7% of your body weight. Losing weight, in general, is never easy, but the takeaway here is that you don’t have to lose 50 or 100 pounds to lower your risk. If you weigh 200 pounds, for example, losing just 10 to 15 pounds can help.

• Tip: Filling up on vegetables at your meals and eating from a smaller plate are easy ways to cut calories.

Get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. This can seem like a lot of activity, but breaking it down into smaller amounts makes it more doable. And activity doesn’t have to mean going to the gym (unless you want to). Raking leaves, walking your dog, going dancing, and climbing stairs all count!

• Tip: Aim for doing about 30 minutes of activity each day. Make this manageable by doing 10 minutes of activity, three times a day.

Rethink your drinks. Sweetened, sugary drinks, such as soda, energy drinks, sweetened ice tea, and fruit juices may seem harmless, but they’re loaded with calories and sugar, neither of which give you much of a health benefit. These beverages can lead to weight gain and may actually cause your blood sugar levels to go up.

• Tip: Swap out sugary drinks with water, seltzer water, or unsweetened ice tea. Add flavor to your water by mixing in berries, slices of lemon or lime, or even cucumber for a refreshing treat.

Track it. Get in the habit of tracking or logging your daily food intake and your activity. Studies show that people who keep food records lose more weight than folks who don’t. Tracking helps increase awareness of portions, types of foods that you eat, and eating due to stress or emotions.

• Tip: Use a food-tracking app, such as Lose It!, to easily log your food and activity each day. Try to log right after you eat a meal or snack so that you don’t forget to do it.

Kick the habit. If you smoke, now’s the time to try and quit. Smokers are about 50% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers.

• Tip: Stopping smoking can be hard, but you can do it! Talk with your doctor about options (medications, patches, gum) to help you stop. Also, when you get the urge to smoke, try to focus on your main reason for quitting.

Get your sleep. Not getting enough sleep and getting poor quality sleep boost your diabetes risk by causing insulin resistance. On the other hand, getting too much sleep is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, too.

• Tip: Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning. Turn off electronic devices, such as the television, laptop, tablet, or smartphone at least 30 minutes before you turn in.

Stress less. Stress is a part of all of our lives and while it may not necessarily go away, the key is learning how to manage it. Constant stress can release hormones that raise blood sugar levels.

• Tip: Take three, slow deep breaths when you feel stressed. Doing some type of physical activity can help, too, even if it’s just a quick walk around the block.

Be sure to make — and keep — all of your medical appointments. Remind your doctor, if you need to, that you’d like blood tests to check for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Stay on top of your health, and you just may beat diabetes!

  1. prediabetes:
  2. Type 2 diabetes:
  3. gestational diabetes:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.