Most people know of diabetes or have at least have heard of it — it’s a disease that happens when your blood sugar level (also known as blood glucose) is too high for your body to break down. It’s a dangerous disease and is the number one cause of kidney damage. Well, knowing that it potentially leads to other health complications, many are prepared to recognize it.
However, many people don’t know what prediabetes is, though it’s equally, or even more important to look out for it and its signs. Here’s all you need to know about prediabetes, what causes it and how you can prevent it.
Prediabetes: What is It?
Simply put, prediabetes is what comes before diabetes, almost like a precursor to developing Type 2 diabetes. It happens when your blood sugar level exceeds the normal level, though it doesn’t reach high enough to be considered as diabetes. It is, however, a warning for you to make prompt changes to your lifestyle to prevent the onset of diabetes.
While Type 2 diabetes is generally difficult to reverse, prediabetes is much easier to reverse with healthy habits such as eating right, committing to exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. Simply changing up your diet and engaging in simple, consistent physical activities can ensure you offset the high risk of developing diabetes. This way, you can keep your body healthy and prevent effects such as kidney failure, vision loss, and nerve damage.
What are the Symptoms of Prediabetes?
As it is closely related to diabetes, the symptoms of prediabetes and diabetes are very similar. They include:
- Being more lethargic than usual
- Having to go to the bathroom more often
- Being hungrier or having a bigger appetite than usual
- Being thirstier than usual
- Losing weight without eating any less
That being said, diabetes is a disease that develops slowly over time, so it is possible that you can be in the prediabetes stage without experiencing any of these symptoms at first. By the time you notice and diagnose these symptoms, your blood sugar level is likely to already be higher than normal.
What are the Causes of Prediabetes?
Even today, scientists and experts are not completely sure what exactly causes diabetes or prediabetes. However, several risk factors have been identified that increase the chances of developing either one.
- Family History: There tends to be a hereditary pattern in prediabetes and diabetes. That means you’re more likely to develop the disease if someone in your family has either had or has either of the conditions.
- Age: Research has shown that after 45 years of age, the risk of having prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes increases. After age 65, you’re at much higher risk, with increasing risk as you get older.
- Weight: The more overweight (a body mass index above 25) you are, the higher your risk of developing prediabetes. Additional fat cells may potentially make your body more resistant to the insulin hormone, especially if the extra weight falls in the abdomen area.
- Race/Ethnicity: If you fall into any of the following ethnic groups — African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans — you should take extra precautions. According to research, some ethnic groups are more predisposed to developing prediabetes and diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes: If you developed diabetes while pregnant, you’re at higher risk of developing prediabetes down the line.
- Hypothyroidism: This condition stems from the lack of another hormone known as the thyroid hormone, which in turn reduces thyroid function. If you have hypothyroidism and prediabetes, the risk of you developing Type 2 diabetes increases exponentially — almost twice as high as those with a normal thyroid function.
Another health issue that increases the risk of prediabetes is known as polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. With this condition, cysts form in your ovaries and a reason for this is your body’s insulin resistance. As such, it may be directly related to the chance of developing prediabetes.
Regardless of which risk factors you may possess, it’s a fact that prediabetes and diabetes begin to develop when the body is unable to use a hormone (known as insulin) effectively. This hormone is an important one, ensuring that glucose enters your cells through your bloodstream. Without a healthy insulin function, your body is unable to process glucose and the energy it provides properly.
There are two possible reasons why insulin function is affected: Firstly, your body might not be producing enough of the hormone; or secondly, your body has become resistant to the hormone.
How is a Diagnosis Made?
It’s always best to be safe than sorry — and just to be safe, especially if you have more than one of the risk factors mentioned earlier, you may want to make a request to your doctor to test your blood glucose levels regularly. This rings true especially if you’re 45 years old and above. In fact, some doctors recommend testing blood glucose levels every three years from that age onwards.
There are two tests to diagnose an individual with prediabetes, and some doctors even choose to run both. They are:
- Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): Before this test, you need to abstain from eating for at least eight hours. At the beginning of the test, the doctor will proceed to test your blood glucose level before giving you a very sugary mixture to drink. A follow-up test two hours later will be conducted to determine if you have impaired glucose tolerance — a fancy term for prediabetes diagnosed with this method.
- Fasting plasma glucose test (FPG): As the name suggests, doing this test also requires at least eight hours of fasting prior to it, so it’s often conducted in the morning. Here, a blood sample is drawn and checked by a doctor for abnormally high blood glucose levels.
With regular testing, you can detect abnormalities early and prevent prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes, as well as all of the complications that they bring.
How to Control Prediabetes?
If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, there are certain steps you can take to reverse the effect and lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Typical courses of action that are recommended by doctors include:
- Losing weight: If you’re currently overweight, research shows that losing just five to ten percent of your weight can lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes quite radically. Get on a weight loss program and watch your diet carefully with a registered dietitian. A healthy food plan will definitely control your blood sugar levels and keep it in a healthy range.
- Increase physical activity: Exercising and sweating it out forces your body to use glucose, lowering the blood glucose level quite significantly. As a result, less insulin hormone is required to be produced, and you’re much less likely to develop diabetes.
- Medication: In cases where you’re at very high risk of having Type 2 diabetes, doctors may prescribe metformin. It prevents the liver from making too much glucose, keeping your body’s glucose at a safe level.
Prediabetes is scary, and it should be. It’s an early warning that your body is heading down the path of developing diabetes — but luckily for us, it’s also a warning we can easily heed.