Elizabeth Smoots, MD
Just as pre-cancer may be detected and removed before turning into
cancer, discovery of diabetes in its earliest stages can help prevent the development of full-blown diabetes. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind the term prediabetes (also called impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose).
Blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes are classified as prediabetes. Evidence indicates that people with prediabetes can take steps to return their blood sugar levels to a normal range. This can prevent or delay complications that are linked to diabetes.
If you have prediabetes, then you are at risk for type 2 diabetes and other serious conditions, like heart attack and stroke.
Other long-term health problems can result if you do not have good control over your blood sugar levels. Complications related to type 2 diabetes include but are not limited to:
Being overweight is a risk factor for prediabetes and diabetes. Weight loss, even a few pounds, can “cure” prediabetes or reduce the chance of the condition turning into
type 2 diabetes. Obesity and type 2 diabetes make your body cells less sensitive to the effects of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. This allows blood sugar levels to rise over time and can result in long-term damage to your body.
This is an especially important risk factor for Americans since many are overweight. African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders may be at an even higher risk.
Prediabetes and diabetes can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. During a routine office visit, your doctor can order tests, such as:
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that the following people get screened for diabetes:
Screening should be repeated at least every three years if the results are normal, or every year for those people who are at increased risk for future diabetes.
If your test indicates prediabetes, you should have it repeated for accuracy. If you do have prediabetes, you will need to be retested every year.
Fortunately, we know that people with prediabetes can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes with lifestyle changes. Experts recommend that people with prediabetes reduce their weight by 7% and engage in modest physical activity for at least 150 minutes each week. In addition to exercising, you doctor will also recommend that you make changes to your diet. This may include eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods. You should also limite intake of sugar-sweetened drinks.
If you already drink alcohol, limit your drinking moderate to amounts of alcohol (two drinks per day for men, one drink per day for women). Some studies have shown a benefit for people who drink moderately.
In some cases, medicines commonly used to treat diabetes may be prescribed to prevent people from developing diabetes.
American Diabetes Association
National Diabetes Education Program
Canadian Diabetes Association
Team Diabetes Canada
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Last reviewed August 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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