An estimated 84 million American adults — more than one in three — are prediabetic, meaning they are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that can lead to deadly complications, such as:
And many of them have no idea they are at risk.
What prediabetes means
Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is higher than normal, but hasn’t reached diabetic levels. Blood sugar, or blood glucose, comes from the foods we eat. Too much glucose in the blood stream can damage your body over time.
Prediabetes generally has no signs or symptoms. In fact, 40% of people don’t know they have it. But once it has been diagnosed by a blood glucose test, chances are good that you can cut your risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes by as much as 50%.
"I’ve even seen patients reverse prediabetes," says UCI Health endocrinologist Dr. Ping Wang. "It’s not a guarantee, but it can happen."
Who’s at risk for prediabetes?
Factors that increase the risk for prediabetes (and type 2 diabetes) are:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Older in age
- Ethnicity (Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Hawaiians are at higher risk)
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Women who have had gestational diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome
How to manage prediabetes
Wang says prediabetes is best managed with lifestyle changes.
"I suggest that my patients work with diabetes-certified educators who can help design exercise programs and menus, recommend how much weight to lose and suggest other lifestyle changes. We have these experts at UCI Health and their services are usually covered by insurance."
Your doctor can help make sure you’re on the right track and take appropriate action if you do develop diabetes, but 80% of the work is done by the patient.
"Here are the lifestyle changes I recommend to my patients," Wang says:
- Exercise. Increase your exercise levels to at least three times a week, and work out vigorously enough to sweat.
- Manage weight. Control your body weight or bring your weight down to normal levels for your height and body type.
- Eat well. Eat a balanced diet, avoid concentrated sweets (things that contain a lot of sugar, like desserts), and do not overload on carbohydrates (such as pasta, bread, rice and grains).
- Get regular sleep. The risk of diabetes increases with disruption of circadian rhythms, which means it is especially important for people with sleep apnea to seek help.
"Think of prediabetes as a yellow caution light about your health. But if you work on it, there is a reasonable chance that you change the light to green."