What is it?
Prediabetes is when a person’s blood sugar level (blood glucose) is higher than average, but not enough to diagnose them with diabetes.
Almost all type 2 diabetics have had prediabetes, but not all prediabetics develop type 2 diabetes. Of course, it’s not enough to hope you fall into the right category: without any intervention, prediabetes is extremely likely to evolve in the wrong direction.
Prediabetes entails abnormal fasting blood glucose—that is, abnormal blood sugar levels eight hours after a meal—or glucose intolerance. When everything is running normally, the pancreas produces insulin, the hormone that synthesizes the sugars you ingest and your body produces. In people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the pancreas partly or completely fails to fulfill this function. In prediabetic people, the process is just beginning to show signs of failure, with sugar accumulating in the blood instead of being properly used as a source of energy. Often, though not always, it’s due to lifestyle habits.
What should you watch for?
Prediabetes will generally show no symptoms, which makes it difficult to detect. However, there are several risk factors:
- Age (anyone 40 years or older should get tested)
- Ethnicity (African, Latin American, Asian, Aboriginal, etc.)
- Family history
- Excess weight, especially around the waist
- Lack of physical activity
- Gestational diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- High cholesterol
Don’t hesitate to see your health professional to have your profile assessed and get tested if necessary. The earlier prediabetes is diagnosed, the better your chance of preventing it from evolving.
How do you manage prediabetes?
Lifestyle plays a key role in both managing prediabetes and preventing type 2 diabetes.
Specifically, you should revise your diet to prefer balanced choices, cutting calories and saturated fats and being very careful with carbohydrates. No worries, though: a dietitian or health professional can provide advice on how to keep your meals delicious and satisfying. In addition, physical exercise is just as important as diet, as it helps you maintain a healthy weight, shrink your waist size a bit, regulate blood sugar, manage stress and keep your heart healthy. In some cases, oral medication can be prescribed to combat prediabetes, depending on the initial risk factors.
What are the potential complications?
The main possible complication of prediabetes is type 2 diabetes, which comes with its own lot of potential problems, including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and foot disorders. Note that these may occur even before type 2 diabetes develops.
Prediabetes is a warning signal: you still have a chance to reverse the trend. Rethink your lifestyle one small change at a time, and keep in mind that the diagnosis doesn’t mean that type 2 diabetes is inevitable—it’s mostly an opportunity to take charge of your health.
American Diabetes Association, “Diagnosing Diabetes and Learning About Prediabetes”: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diagnosis/. Accessed January 19, 2017.
American Diabetes Association, “All About Prediabetes”: https://professional.diabetes.org/pel/all-about-prediabetes-english. Accessed January 19, 2017.
Canadian Diabetes Association, “Prediabetes”: https://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/prediabetes. Accessed January 19, 2017.
Canadian Diabetes Association, “Living with Prediabetes”: https://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/living-with-prediabetes. Accessed January 19, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “Prediabetes”: http://www.diabete.qc.ca/en/understand-diabetes/all-about-diabetes/types-of-diabetes/prediabetes. Accessed January 19, 2017.
Mayo Clinic, “Prediabetes”: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prediabetes/symptoms-causes/dxc-20270026. Accessed January 19, 2017.