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Prediabetes, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar levels are higher than typical levels. The number of people with the condition is rising across the country.
If you have a close family member living with diabetes, you may be curious how likely you are to develop it. Are there warning signs or indications that can tell you your blood sugar is higher than it should be? Should you start checking your own blood sugar levels alongside your relative? Because diabetes can run in families, it's natural to be curious about whether you're at risk and how it might develop.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 86 million Americans now have prediabetes. That's one in three adults. Of those 86 million, nine out of 10 don't know they have it, and it is predicted that by 2030, 470 million people around the world will have this condition.
Having prediabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 5 to 15 times. Fortunately, with sufficient lifestyle changes, diabetes can be delayed and complications can be prevented. Plus, not all individuals who develop prediabetes will proceed to develop full-blown diabetes.
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Prediabetes, also known as "impaired fasting glucose" or "glucose intolerance," occurs when blood sugar levels are slightly higher than normal, but not as high as they are with diabetes. Blood sugar levels increase when you consume food, mainly carbohydrates. Insulin, which is secreted by your pancreas, is the primary hormone that processes the sugar in your blood and helps control blood sugar levels. In people with prediabetes and diabetes, one of two things happens—either your pancreas does not make enough insulin, or your cells do not respond to insulin that the pancreas produces.
When your body does not respond to the insulin and cannot process the sugar in the bloodstream, you develop a condition known as "insulin resistance." This causes a cascade of events: To process the sugar in the blood, your body makes extra insulin. As time progresses and no lifestyle changes are made, insulin resistance worsens. The body cannot compensate for the high sugar levels in your blood, and full-blown diabetes sets in.
To be diagnosed as having prediabetes, your fasting blood sugar levels must be between 100 and 125 mg/dl (milligrams/deciliter). Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) is also an indicator of blood sugar patterns, and a level between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is indicative of prediabetes.
Prediabetes is a "silent" disease. It usually has no symptoms. You might feel normal while the disease is progressing, and this can go on for several years.
Annual physicals can help you spot unusually high blood sugar levels. Most health care providers check blood glucose numbers at a regular appointment. If your numbers show an unusual pattern, your doctor may request blood tests to check for prediabetes.
You might be at more risk than others if:
• You are overweight.
• You are 45 years of age or older.
• Your parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
• You are physically active fewer than 3 times per week.
• You ever gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds.
• You ever had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes).
• You have a history of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
• African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders and some Asian Americans are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes.
If you have one or more of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about your risks, and ask if you should be tested for prediabetes.
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If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, follow these steps to prevent diabetes progression:
• Lose weight. If you are overweight, losing a modest amount of weight can reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Aim to weigh within the range of your ideal body weight, but even if you can't quite there, losing 7 percent of your body weight can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.
• Get moving. Exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of physical activity five times a week can lower your risk. Pick an activity—dancing, swimming, running—that you enjoy, then get moving.
• Eat a balanced diet. Making healthy food choices and developing eating patterns that are beneficial for your health can go a long way in reducing your risk of diabetes. The Mediterranean diet, which is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish, has shown potential for preventing diabetes. A review of the literature concluded that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is linked to a 19 percent reduction in the risk of diabetes.
• Invest in a glucose monitor. A glucose monitor can be a helpful tool to check your blood sugar levels at home. If you have prediabetes, keeping an eye on your blood sugar levels can help you make the necessary changes in your diet and also act as a motivator.
These changes in your lifestyle can make a huge difference and cut your risk of developing diabetes. Drugs like metformin are successful in reducing diabetes risk, but talk to your doctor to know if you need them. Lifestyle modifications are more effective than drugs when it comes to reducing prediabetes symptoms, lowing blood sugar levels and preventing the condition from progressing to type 2 diabetes.