Prediabetes – What Is It?

When undergoing blood tests as a part of your annual health check up, you may notice that your blood glucose levels are just a little above normal.

In a panic (and rightly so), you may rush to see your doctor worried that you might have diabetes. Upon review of your results, your doctor will reassure you and may tell you that you have ‘pre-diabetes’.

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes means that your blood glucose levels are elevated, but not high enough to be labelled diabetes.

We have previously discussed the definition of diabetes, which is a fasting glucose level above 126 mg/dl. Normal fasting glucose levels are less that 100 mg/dL.

In prediabetes, your fasting sugar lies between 100 – 126 mg/dL.

what is prediabetes

What Causes Prediabetes?

The cause of prediabetes is not very clear. However, having a strong history of diabetes in the family seems to increase the risk.

Being overweight is a well recognised risk factor leading to diabetes, and the same hold true with prediabetes.

The underlying problem is clear in prediabetes – the glucose that is absorbed from the food we eat is only partly used by the muscles and tissues for energy.

Carbohydrates that we eat in our food supply the glucose we need. These foods include rice, potato, wheat etc.

Glucose requires insulin to enter the cells and provide energy. When you eat your food, insulin is secreted by the pancreas gland (situated behind the stomach). Insulin not only helps push glucose into the cells, it also helps reduce the blood glucose levels.

In other words, insulin helps to keep the blood glucose levels within normal limits.

In prediabetes, this mechanism is faulty. Either the levels of insulin reduce or insulin is no longer as efficient in keeping glucose levels controlled.

Who Can Get Prediabetes?

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your risk of developing prediabetes.

1. Being overweight – As mentioned previously, being overweight can increase your risk of developing prediabetes.

2. Inactivity – The lack of sufficient physical activity and exercise increases your risk markedly.

3. High waist size – If your waist size is more than 40 inches (men) or 35 inches (women), then your body can become resistant to the actions of insulin. This ‘insulin resistance’ is a risk factor in the development of prediabetes.

4. Family history – If it is in your genes and your immediate family has diabetes, then you stand a higher chance of getting prediabetes.

5. Age – The risk of prediabetes increases as you get older. Individuals older than 45 years of age are at a greater risk.

6. Sleep problems – If you suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, then your risk of prediabetes is higher.

Are There Any Symptoms?

You may have prediabetes and not even know it.

A small number of people with this condition sometimes notice darkening of the skin on certain parts of their body (such as armpits, neck, knuckles, knees and elbows). This is called acanthosis nigricans.

If you have noticed that you are increasingly thirsty, have an increased appetite and are passing more urine than usual, then you may have moved from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.

Should I Worry?

Having prediabetes means you are at risk of developing diabetes.

In fact, research has shown that having prediabetes means that you will likely develop type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years. Damage to the heart and the kidneys may begin as well.

But let’s look at it in a more positive way. Having prediabetes gives you an opportunity to make changes to your life so that you may prevent it from becoming diabetes.

So What Can I Do?

Well, get off the couch and on your feet!

Exercise, weight loss and a healthy diet are the main treatments available. Medications are rarely prescribed for this condition.

Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods with a high glycaemic index. Instead, indulge in foods with low glycaemic index that release glucose and energy slowly.

Get moving. Exercise can help reverse prediabetes. Walk at least 45 to 60 minutes a day at a brisk pace. Take the stairs. Swim once in a while. Take up an aerobic activity like Zumba or sports. The options are too many to list!

Lose weight. If you want to reduce those glucose numbers, you got to reduce the number on the weighing scale. Just losing 5 – 10 kilograms in weight can reduce your risk of going on to develop diabetes.

Medications are rarely prescribed. But if your risk is high, then you may be started on metformin. It not only helps keeps glucose levels controlled; it does so without causing hypoglycemia and helps lose weight at the same time.

Prediabetes is a warning sign of diabetes mellitus. It is a taste of things to come. Make sure you take the right steps by maintaining a healthy diet and performing regular exercise.

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