People with prediabetes have glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough yet to indicate diabetes. The condition used to be called borderline diabetes. Most people with prediabetes may not have the symptoms, but they are considered to be at high risk of developing heart disease.
Normally, your body produces a hormone called insulin to help your cells use the energy (glucose) found in food. With diabetes, either your body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't efficiently use the insulin it does produce. When glucose builds up in the blood, it can damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, heart, eyes, and nervous system.
With prediabetes, the subtle balance between glucose and insulin has been thrown off. The pancreas may not be able to produce enough insulin after a meal to "clear" the incoming glucose from the blood. Or cells may be insulin resistant. When cells are insulin resistant, they won't allow the insulin to escort glucose from the bloodstream into them. Too much glucose in the blood is also called high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. A low blood sugar level is called hypoglycemia.
If you have prediabetes, you're at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as the serious medical problems associated with diabetes, including heart disease and stroke. With prediabetes, you are at a 50% higher risk of heart disease and stroke than someone who does not have prediabetes.
Two blood tests are commonly used to determine if you have diabetes or prediabetes. One is the fasting plasma glucose test (FPG). The other is oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). These tests measure how quickly your body can "clear" glucose from your blood. The American Diabetes Association supports either test to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes.
The CDC estimates that as many as 57 million Americans aged 20 or older have prediabetes. That's based on national statistics of people who have been diagnosed with impaired fasting glucose.
Prediabetes should not be ignored. It signals the likely onset of a more serious condition, and it can begin the process of doing damage to your heart and possibly other organs such as the kidneys, eyes, and nervous system.
Lifestyle changes can help many people with prediabetes to delay -- or even prevent -- the onset of full-blown diabetes. Changes that can help prevent diabetes include losing weight (excess fat – not muscle) to bring total weight to a near-normal range, exercising regularly, and eating balanced al and nutritional meals.
In a large research study called the Diabetes Prevention Program, the following lifestyle changes reduced the development of diabetes over three years by 58%. For people aged 60 or older, the reduction was an even greater 71%.
Your doctor may also advise lowering any other heart disease risks you may have, such as smoking and high cholesterol levels.
In short, you can control your prediabetes by adhering to a healthier lifestyle. If prediabetes does become type 2 diabetes, these lifestyle changes -- weight control, exercise, nutrition, and blood pressure control -- build the platform for managing diabetes for life. A healthy lifestyle can also help you prevent or delay the need to begin using medications such as insulin to control blood sugar levels.