What Does It Really Mean to Have Prediabetes?
Type 2 diabetes often happens due to genetics and lifestyle. It is when a person has high levels of blood sugar, known as glucose. The body makes glucose from the food we eat. It is the main source of energy for our cells. Type 2 diabetes is triggered when the body is no longer able to use insulin well. This is the hormone that helps cells take in glucose from the blood. Nerves and blood vessels can be harmed when glucose stays in the blood instead of moving into the cells. This raises the risk of health problems, such as stroke, blindness, and blood flow problems.
This health problem happens before type 2 diabetes. It means that glucose levels that are high, but not high enough to be called diabetes. Having prediabetes means that a person is at higher risk for getting diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises screening for all adults 45 years old and older. People who are younger than 45 and are overweight and have these risk factors should also be screened:
- Other people in the family who have diabetes
- Having hypertension, high cholesterol, or high triglycerides
- History of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms)
- History of heart disease
- Having certain health problems, such as polycystic ovary syndrome or metabolic syndrome
How It Is Tested
A doctor uses these tests to find out if a person has prediabetes:
- Fasting plasma glucose test—A person fasts overnight and has their blood glucose measured in the morning before eating. Results in the range of 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) may point to prediabetes.
- Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)—A person will fast overnight and have their blood glucose measured after the fast. Then, the person will have a sugary drink and have their glucose measured 2 hours later. Results in the range of 140 to 199 mg/dL (7.8 to 11 mmol/L) are a sign of prediabetes.
- Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)—This is a sign of the average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. Results in the range of 5.7% to 6.4% are a sign of prediabetes.
How It Is Managed
A person with prediabetes can take steps to manage it, such as reaching a healthy weight. Lowering body weight by 5% to 10% can help. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day will also help a person stay on track. Some people can take medicine to manage their blood glucose levels, but lifestyle changes should be the first thing that a person tries.
How to Prevent It
These methods used to prevent type 2 diabetes can also be used to prevent prediabetes:
- Losing weight
- Exercising for at least 150 minutes per week
- Lowering calorie and fat intake
- Trying to eat more fiber and whole grains
A person with prediabetes can take steps to slow or avoid getting type 2 diabetes. It will depend on the effort a person puts in, but the health benefits are worth it.
American Diabetes Association
National Diabetes Education Program
Canadian Diabetes Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes - 2020. Diabetes Care. 2020 Jan; 43 (Suppl 1):S1-S212.
Diabetes mellitus type 2 prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/diabetes-mellitus-type-2-prevention. Accessed August 25, 2020.
Prediabetes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/prediabetes. Accessed August 25, 2020.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/risk-factors-type-2-diabetes. Accessed August 25, 2020.
With prediabetes, action is the best medicine. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-risk/prediabetes. Accessed August 25, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 3/2/2021