What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes means that your blood sugars are higher than normal, but not high enough to be type 2 diabetes. Having prediabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems like heart disease or stroke.

What causes prediabetes?

Prediabetes is caused by a buildup of sugar in your blood. Insulin allows sugar to get into your body's cells. When your body can't use insulin the right way, the sugar doesn't move into your body's cells and it builds up in your blood. There are other risk factors that contribute to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These include:

  • Over 45 years of age
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Carrying extra body weight
  • Little or no physical activity
  • Diagnosed with high blood pressure
  • History of gestational diabetes (diabetes when you were pregnant)

What are the symptoms of prediabetes?

1 in 3 adults have prediabetes. Most of the time, people with prediabetes do not know they have it because they do not have symptoms. However, having prediabetes increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Over time, diabetes can harm your eyes, nerves and kidneys. It can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. It can also damage your nerves. In your feet, this nerve damage can cause slow healing and pain when you walk. Your immune system may become weak and less able to fight infections.

How is prediabetes diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history. You will also get a physical exam and blood sugar (glucose) testing. The results help your doctor see if you have prediabetes and are at risk for type 2 diabetes. Blood tests used to diagnose prediabetes in adults include:

  • Fasting blood glucose test - This test is usually done in the morning after you have not had anything to eat or drink for at least 8 hours.
  • Hemoglobin A1C - This test estimates your blood sugar over the past 2 to 3 months.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) - For an OGTT, your blood sugar is tested after not having anything to eat or drink for at least 8 hours. Then it is tested again 2 hours after you drink a sugary drink given to you by your doctor.

How is prediabetes treated?

Most people with type 2 diabetes have prediabetes first, but many people do not know it. The main way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to lower your blood sugar with healthy lifestyle changes. You can prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes and other health issues by making small changes through:

  • Physical activity - Try to get 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of physical activity each week. That’s about 15 to 30 minutes every day.
  • Healthy foods - Choose healthy, nutritious foods to fuel your body. These types of foods include lean proteins (chicken, fish, beans), vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Try to avoid fried foods, processed or packaged foods and foods that have a lot of sugar.
  • Maintain a healthy weight - Lowering your body weight, by even a little bit (5% to 7%), can make a difference in your blood sugar. How much is a little bit? This is based on your current weight. If you currently weigh:
    • 150 pounds: try to lose 5 to 10 pounds
    • 200 pounds: try to lose 10 to 15 pounds
    • 250 pounds: try to lose 12 to 17 pounds
    • 300 pounds: try to lose 15 to 21 pounds
  • Increasing your physical activity and choosing healthy foods can help you start to lose weight.
  • Talk to your health care provider - Ask about a referral to the National Diabetes Prevention Program - a lifestyle change program that helps people prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. With the help of a trained lifestyle coach, the National Diabetes Prevention Program can help you:
    • Develop skills to make healthier food and activity choices
    • Lose weight
    • Lower your A1C
    • Get the long-term support you need to stick with the changes
    • Feel better and inspire your friends and family to do the same

Your health care provider may recommend a medication called metformin. Metformin can help you lower your blood sugar and help prevent type 2 diabetes. However, even if you take metformin, it is still important to make as many healthy lifestyle changes as you can to give you the best chance of delaying or preventing type 2 diabetes.

Making healthy lifestyle changes, or taking medication, can help you reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Your health care provider can help you choose the best treatment option for you.

Diabetes Prevention Program

This free program can help you lower your chance of developing type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, like heart disease or stroke.

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Prediabetes Risk Factors

  • Age (people over 45 are a higher risk)
  • Being overweight
  • Family history of diabetes
  • History of diabetes during pregnancy
  • African-American, Hispanic or Asian American heritage