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Pre-Diabetes: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and How to Prevent T2D


More than 1 in 3 adults in America (96 million people) have pre-diabetes, but over 80% of the people don’t know it. Prediabetes is not a medical condition, but rather a state when a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Before people develop type 2 diabetes (T2D), they usually have what is known as prediabetes. Having pre-diabetes can also put you at an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke. However, the good news is that this is the time for you to act! Preemptive actions such as eating healthy, exercising, and losing weight, when needed, may delay or prevent pre-diabetes from developing into type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Try taking this survey to see if you or a loved one is at risk of developing T2D. It takes only 1 minute.

How does pre-diabetes develop?

Pre-diabetes develops when your body still makes insulin but not enough, or your body does not recognize or can’t use the insulin it is making, known as insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use the food you eat to be used as energy. When you eat most foods, it is broken down into glucose (sugar) and released into the bloodstream. Insulin is like a key to your cells. It allows the glucose into your cells, which use it as energy.

Without insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream and doesn’t get into the cells, so the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood rises. At first, your body tries to compensate for the insulin not being used properly by making more insulin as your blood sugar rises. However, there is a point that it can’t keep up with the demand, which is when diabetes begins - setting the path for prediabetes and eventually T2D.

What are the risk factors for developing diabetes?

  • Age: The older you are, the more at risk you are of developing T2D.
  • Gender: Men tend to be more at risk, with some research indicating this is due to a larger amount of visceral fat in men.
  • Weight: Being overweight or having a higher body mass index (BMI) increases your risk of T2D.
  • Gestational diabetes: If you had diabetes during pregnancy or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds, it puts you at higher risk.
  • Genetics: Having a mother, father, or siblings with diabetes puts you at higher risk.
  • High blood pressure: This adds to your overall risk of developing T2D.
  • Not being physically active: Not exercising at least three times per week and being sedentary increases your risk.
  • Race/ethnicity: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk of developing T2D.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Women having PCOS are at higher risk.

What are the symptoms of pre-diabetes?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any symptoms of prediabetes, resulting in many people going about their daily lives without knowing they have it. Some may even have complications from elevated blood sugar like those in diabetes. Pre-diabetes is often diagnosed on regular blood work in a routine health exam/physical, or when you are being checked for diabetes. If your healthcare provider tells you that you have pre-diabetes, you should get checked for type 2 diabetes every year or two and enroll in the National Diabetes Prevention Program to take steps to delay or prevent it.

What can I do if I have pre-diabetes?

f you are at risk for pre-diabetes (see the risk assessment above), you should go to your health care provider to get a check-up. If your doctor tells you that you do have pre-diabetes, there are things you can do to delay the onset of T2D or even prevent it from developing.

Factors you can control include:

  • Losing weight if you are overweight.
  • Getting regular physical exercise.
  • Eating healthy.

There are national programs to assist people in preventing diabetes. The National Diabetes Prevention Program focuses on healthy eating and physical activity and is a research-based program. It has shown that people with prediabetes who take part in a “structured lifestyle change program” can reduce their risk of developing T2D by 58% (71% for people over 60 years old).

Take action

There are many diseases that we can’t prevent or delay from developing, but for many, T2D isn't one of those. There are things you can do to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and its complications. Start now for your health, well-being, and longevity!

References:

American Diabetes Association. Prediabetes.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About the National DPP.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes - Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes.

Cefalu, W. T., Berg, E. G., Saraco, M., Petersen, M. P., Uelmen, S., & Robinson, S. (2019). Improving Care and Promoting Health in Populations: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes

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