Understanding prediabetes and how might it affect you
With prediabetes, early detection may be key. Like the name implies, prediabetes may heighten the chance of developing diabetes — but only if your lifestyle remains unchanged.1 The “if” may be significant. If you have risk factors and do nothing different,2 prediabetes may become type 2 diabetes3 (and potentially raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke,4 too). It’s important to talk with your doctor about possible warning signs of prediabetes and how to make healthy lifestyle changes.5
Frequently asked questions about prediabetes
Your body needs blood sugar, also called glucose, for energy. Instead of using this energy all at once, insulin — a hormone — stores that energy until it’s needed. When insulin isn’t working properly, it can lead to excess glucose in the blood.
With type 1 diabetes, the body may attack and destroy the cells that make insulin. Because of this, it’s an autoimmune condition that has little to do with diet or lifestyle choices.5
With type 2 diabetes, people may become insulin resistant — their bodies make insulin, but are unable to use it properly.6 You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes through a diet high in fat, calories and cholesterol and an inactive lifestyle.7 Unlike type 1 diabetes, it is possible to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.8
Prediabetes is when you are borderline diabetic. Your blood glucose levels are elevated, just not yet elevated to type 2 diabetic levels.9
Anyone with diabetes may hear a lot about the importance of monitoring blood sugar levels. In order to feel better, your numbers matter. Everyone’s target numbers may be a little different, based on age and health. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” target.11 In addition, food, stress and activity may affect levels. Are your glucose levels too low? You might start thinking fuzzy and feeling sick.12 Are your levels too high? You may be damaging your organs and nervous system.13
Many times, there are no symptoms of prediabetes. Because there are often no symptoms, many people with prediabetes may not even know they have the condition.14 Being aware of risk factors may help slow or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Not getting enough exercise and making poor food choices are two major factors in causing insulin resistance and prediabetes. Other factors that could affect your chances of having high blood sugar may include:15
- Carrying extra weight (a body mass index higher than 25 increases your chances of developing prediabetes)16
- Not being physically active
- Having a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- Being of African American, Hispanic, American Indian or Pacific Islander ethnicity
- Being 45 or older (risk goes up at 45)
- Having had gestational diabetes during pregnancy
- Having high blood pressure or cholesterol
- Having a history of heart disease
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Your doctor might use the following tests to help identify prediabetes.17
A1C blood test
|The A1C (A-one-C) is a simple blood test that measures what percentage of hemoglobin is “coated in sugar.”18 The higher the A1C level, the higher the risk of developing diabetes. This information is often assessed as part of a diabetes treatment plan to show how well you may be doing.||Normal range for someone without diabetes = less than 5.6%19
Prediabetes range = between 5.7 and 6.4%
Diabetes range = greater than 6.5%
Fasting blood glucose test
|For the fasting blood glucose test, you won’t eat for up to 8 hours in advance. This test is done because blood sugar tends to peak after eating.||Normal range for someone without diabetes = between 70 and 99 mg per dL19
Prediabetes range = between 100 and 125 mg per dL
Diabetes range = higher than 126 mg per dL.
Oral glucose tolerance test
|For this test, you often fast overnight. Your fasting blood sugar level is then measured and recorded, you drink a sugary solution, your level is measured, and so on every few hours.||Normal range for someone without diabetes = less than 14019
Prediabetes range = between 140 and 199
Diabetes range = higher than 199
Hearing that you have prediabetes doesn’t mean you’ll get type 2 diabetes.20 Your doctor may start you on medication, but often the biggest way to reverse the process can be healthy lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, changing the way you eat and getting enough sleep.21 Just a few small practical and sustainable changes in how you live may make a big difference.
Get quality sleep
New research shows that those who sleep fewer than 5 hours per night, or more than 8 hours, have higher A1C levels.22 When we sleep, our body repairs itself and uses insulin to help regulate blood sugar. Try to make a conscious effort to get enough rest. Make sleep a priority.
Studies show that losing 5 to 7% of your body weight can reduce your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.23 Losing weight may help your body process glucose, may help to lower your blood sugar levels and may help you feel more energetic.
Move your body
Weight loss is a simple math equation (more calories burned than consumed), but adding exercise to your routine may feel overwhelming. It doesn’t have to. Take a short walk over lunch. Try to do something active during TV commercial breaks. Tap your toes while sitting at work. Park farther away during appointments. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. The more you enjoy doing an activity, the more you may want to do it.
Make healthy food choices
Healthy eating may feel overwhelming, especially in today’s busy world. Consider making little changes until they become part of your everyday routine. Some tips:
- Drink a glass of water with every meal24
- Eat breakfast on a regular basis25
- Try to limit ultra-processed foods, like soda, chips, candy, hot dogs and sweetened cereals26
- Put out a fruit bowl so it’s front and center in your kitchen for grab-and-go snacking27
- Choose low-fat or skim options28
- Try to eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored29
- Take seven slow breaths before meals30
- Remember: One day of unhealthy choices isn’t a food “fail.” It’s just one day of unhealthy choices, nothing more, nothing less. Tomorrow is a new day.
With healthy lifestyle changes, you may prevent the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. Think you might be at risk? Take this test to find out more
- Prediabetes www.mayoclinic.com, 2020.
- Prediabetes - Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes www.cdc.gov, 2020.
- Prediabetes Resources www.diabeteseducator.org, 2021.
- Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke www.niddk.nih.gov, 2017.
- The Surprising Truth About Prediabetes www.cdc.gov, 2020.
- Early Symptoms of Diabetes www.jdrf.org, 2021.
- Type 2 Diabetes: What Is It? kidshealth.org, 2018.
- Poor Nutrition www.cdc.gov, 2021.
- Learn the Genetics of Diabetes diabetes.org, 2021.
- The Surprising Truth About Prediabetes www.cdc.org, 2020.
- The Big Picture: Checking Your Blood Glucose www.diabetes.org, 2021.
- Hypoglycemia (Low Blood sugar) www.diabetes.org, 2021.
- Hyperglycemia in diabetes www.mayoclinic.org, 2020.
- Prediabetes - Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes www.mayoclinic.org, 2020.
- Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes www.niddk.nih.gov, 2018.
- Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk www.nhlni.nih.gov, 2021.
- Diabetes– Diagnosis and treatment www.mayoclinic.org, 2020.
- A1C test www.mayoclinic.org, 2018.
- Diagnosis www.diabetes.org, 2021.
- Diabetes Symptoms, Causes & Treatment www.diabetes.org, 2021.
- Prediabetes www.diabetes.org, 2021.
- Association of Self-Reported Sleep and Circadian Measures With Glycemia in Adults With Prediabetes or Recently Diagnosed Untreated Type 2 Diabetes care.diabetesjournals.org, 2019.
- Preventing Type 2 Diabetes www.niddk.nih.gov, 2016.
- Water and Healthier Drinks www.cdc.gov, 2021.
- Nutrition and healthy eating www.mayoclinic.org, 2020.
- What is ultra-processed food and how can you eat less of it? www.heartandstroke.ca, 2021.
- Healthy Eating www.nutrition.gov, 2021.
- Low-Calorie, Lower Fat Alternative Foods www.nhlbi.nih.gov, 2021.
- Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating www.mayoclinic.org, 2020.
- Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response www.health.harvard.edu, 2015.