It’s an epidemic too few talk about, and many who have it aren’t aware of it. It’s a condition where the symptoms are easy to dismiss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prediabetes afflicts 34.5% of adults in the United States, and only about 15% have been diagnosed. Why is knowing you have it so important?
Prediabetes can cause some of the same health problems as type 2 diabetes. Having prediabetes means you’re at substantial risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next decade unless you make lifestyle changes.
One of the most important things you can do to reverse prediabetes and prevent it in the first place is to lose weight. The condition is increasingly common, especially among overweight and obese people in their 40s and 50s. More than half of Americans are overweight, which puts them at greater risk for insulin resistance, a precursor to prediabetes.
But that’s not the only problem with prediabetes. Even if you don’t progress to type 2 diabetes, prediabetics are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Plus, recent research shows people with prediabetes experience some of the same blood vessel damage as those with type 2 diabetes.
What is Prediabetes?
In prediabetes, your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet at the level of diabetes. So, you can better understand what’s normal, prediabetes, and diabetes. Here are fasting blood sugar ranges for each:
normal below 100
prediabetes 100 to 125
diabetes above 125
What makes prediabetes difficult to diagnose is the symptoms, if there are any, are subtle. Prediabetic people usually find out because they get a routine fasting blood glucose level in the prediabetic range. But there are subtle signs that you might be prediabetic or diabetic, and some are easy to miss.
How do you know if you’re at risk? If you have a large waistline, 35 inches or greater in women or 40 inches or greater in men, you’re at higher risk of developing type 2 prediabetes. A generous waist size is a sign of insulin resistance, a condition where your cells respond sluggishly to insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas that escorts glucose into cells, so they can use it to make energy. Now, let’s look at some subtle signs you could experience if you have prediabetes.
You Feel Tired All the Time
Fatigue is a common symptom of many conditions, including type 2 diabetes. If you’re feeling fatigued, it could be stress, iron deficiency anemia, an underactive thyroid, or other health issues, but prediabetes should be on the list too. When you have prediabetes, your cells have a harder time getting the glucose they need to make energy, so you may feel tired because your cells aren’t getting a steady supply of glucose for energy.
Your Vision Isn’t as Good as It Used to Be
If you have prediabetes or diabetes and your blood glucose level is too high, you may develop vision problems, including transient blurred vision. This occurs because high blood glucose draws water from tissues, including the retina in the back of your eye, a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Plus, high blood glucose can damage the blood vessels in the back of the eyes.
Retinopathy is more common in type 2 diabetes, but research now shows the damage can start earlier, during the prediabetic stage. One study found that 8% of people with prediabetes had evidence of retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss, so it’s important to take it seriously.
You’re Running to the Bathroom More Often
The urge to urinate more often is a sign of diabetes, but it can also be a symptom of prediabetes. If you’re getting up to urinate at night more than once, ask your physician to check your fasting blood sugar level. Along with more frequent urination, you’ll feel thirstier as you try to replace the excess water you’re using when you urinate.
Unexplained Changes in Weight
People with prediabetes and diabetes often experience weight changes. Weight gain is a risk factor for developing both, so you might notice the onset of prediabetes after gaining weight without changing your lifestyle. Expanding waist size is another risk factor. But once blood sugar levels rise, weight loss is a common symptom, especially if fasting blood sugar reaches diabetic levels. When your cells can’t get adequate glucose due to insulin resistance, breakdown of fat becomes an alternative source of fuel, and you lose body fat.
Wounds Are Healing Slow
Diabetes reduces blood flow to your extremities. Plus, it affects your immune response in a way that slows wound healing. So, cuts, scrapes, and abrasions may take longer to heal. This is more common with type 2 diabetes, where blood sugars are in the diabetic range, but it can also be an issue when your blood sugars are in the prediabetic range.
What Can You Do If You Have Prediabetes?
If you’re overweight or obese, losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can improve your blood sugar level and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That’s a modest amount of weight loss and one that can pay off in terms of cardiovascular risk and your health.
Exercise helps with weight loss, but it has benefits for preventing prediabetes that extend beyond the weight you lose. Exercise is a powerful way to improve insulin sensitivity. During and after a workout, your cells take up glucose without the need for insulin. Plus, exercise increases muscle tissue, which helps boost glucose absorption from your bloodstream, so your body doesn’t have to produce as much insulin.
The Bottom Line
If you have prediabetes, you may experience some of these symptoms or none at all. That’s why it’s important to check your fasting blood glucose level every 6 months or so to ensure it’s in a healthy range. If it’s in the prediabetic range, lifestyle changes, especially losing weight, can often be effective. In fact, lifestyle changes are the main treatment for prediabetes. Start by taking small steps, like increasing your physical activity, switching to a diet of whole foods, and nixing refined carbohydrates and sugar. You’ll be glad you did!
- “Prevalence of Prediabetes Among Adults | Diabetes | CDC.” cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/prevalence-of-prediabetes.html.
- “Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes | CDC.” cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html.
- Bansal N. Prediabetes diagnosis and treatment: A review. World J Diabetes. 2015 Mar 15;6(2):296-303. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v6.i2.296. PMID: 25789110; PMCID: PMC4360422.
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