Prediabetes: Knowing the risk factors and what you can do to avoid Type 2 Diabetes

Nearly everyone who has ever been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at some point had prediabetes. They just didn’t realize it.

If you think that is scary, here are some sobering facts that put the prevalence of prediabetes into even greater perspective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), right now in the United States there are roughly 88 million adults living with prediabetes. That’s more than one in three Americans. Here’s the real shocker – a whopping 84% of these people have absolutely no idea they are prediabetic. Not a clue!

This means a huge percentage of adults in the United States are walking around at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, not to mention the conditions associated with it, such as heart disease, kidney disease, vision problems, nerve damage, even strokes. To make matters worse, these individuals are not doing anything about their prediabetes because they are entirely unaware, they have a problem.

Here is what is even more frustrating. Prediabetes can be managed, and even reversed in many instances, with the right lifestyle and dietary choices. Yes, there are things you can do, if you are prediabetic, to avoid developing Type 2 diabetes. But you cannot address a problem you don’t know you have, which is why prediabetes has become a pressing health issue in the United States. 


What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a health condition in which an individual has higher than normal blood sugar levels, yet they’re not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Doctors might also refer to the condition as Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) or Impaired Fasting Glucose (IFG) because these are two of the tests used to detect prediabetes, which will get into shortly.

One of the real dangers with prediabetes is that there are usually zero symptoms associated with the disease. Most prediabetics feel perfectly fine going about their daily routines. They might notice they get a little thirstier than usual, or they may experience some mild fatigue, but, for the most part, there are no telltale symptoms to indicate a serious problem. That does not mean, however, that there are no clear-cut risk factors. There are.


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Am I at Risk for Prediabetes?

The exact cause of prediabetes is unclear, though family history and genetics seem to play important roles in the likelihood that a person will develop the condition.

What is clear, however, is that, like people with diabetes, those with prediabetes are unable to efficiently move sugar from the blood into the body’s cells. So, instead of fueling cells blood sugar builds up in the bloodstream. Eventually, this can, and, if left unchecked, probably will lead to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

So, are you one of the millions of Americans at risk? Here are 10 key factors that contribute to prediabetes:

  1. Overweight - being overweight is a primary risk factor. The fattier tissue you have, the more resistant the cells become to the body’s naturally produced insulin, the hormone necessary for moving glucose from the blood into the cells.
  2. Waistline – For men, a waist size that’s more than 40 inches, and, for women, a waist size greater than 35 inches, can be a sign that you have become insulin resistant or are moving in that direction.
  3. Inactivity – If you engage in physical activity fewer than three times a week your risk of prediabetes increases. Exercise not only helps manage weight, but it also causes the body to use sugar as energy, which contributes to lowering glucose levels.
  4. Family History – Having a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, puts you at greater risk of prediabetes.
  5. Diet/Nutrition – A diet that includes an abundance of red meat, processed foods, and sugary drinks increases the risk of prediabetes. Choose a healthy diet based primarily on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins like chicken and fish. 
  6. Age – Prediabetes can certainly manifest at any age, but the risk is heightened after the age of 45.
  7. Race/Ethnicity – Certain races and ethnic groups are more likely to develop prediabetes, including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.
  8. Gestational Diabetes – Women who experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy, as well as their children, are more likely to develop prediabetes in following years. The good news is doctors will already be aware of the risk and will likely check blood sugar levels regularly to catch any signs of prediabetes.
  9. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – Women with this condition, resulting in irregular menstrual cycles, also have an increased risk of insulin resistance which can lead to prediabetes.
  10. Smoking – Smoking is just plain awful for you anyway. Along with the multitude of other health issues, it may also increase insulin resistance.

                    Getting Tested for Prediabetes

                    It’s a good idea for anyone who is over the age of 45 to get tested for prediabetes, however, if you match any of the additional contributing factors listed above, you should make it a priority.

                    There are three primary tests your doctor can perform to check for prediabetes. Any abnormalities found will require you to repeat the test to verify the diagnosis.

                    A1C Test

                    An A1C test is a simple blood test that is commonly given to people who have already been diagnosed with diabetes to see if their blood sugar levels are under control. However, this test is also a good way to identify prediabetes. Essentially, an A1C test measures your average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months and the results are reported as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher your blood sugar levels have been over the past few months. After an A1C test, you’ll be categorized in one of three ranges - Normal, Prediabetes, Diabetes.


                            A1C %                Diagnosis

                    Below 5.7%


                    5.7% to less than 6.5%


                    6.5% and over



                    Fasting Plasma Glucose Test

                    This blood test measures your glucose levels after you have fasted for eight hours. Much like the A1C test the results put you in one of three ranges.


                            Glucose               Diagnosis

                    Less than 100mg/dL


                    100-125 mg/dL


                    126mg/dl or higher



                    Glucose Tolerance Test

                    This test measures your blood sugar before and after you consume a liquid that contains glucose. You will fast the night before the test and have your blood drawn to determine your fasting blood sugar level. Soon after, you’ll drink the glucose-enhanced liquid and have your blood sugar level checked two hours later. Again, the results fall into three categories.


                          Glucose                 Diagnosis

                    or less


                    140-199 mg/dL


                    200 mg/dl or higher



                    What to do if you are diagnosed with prediabetes.

                    First and foremost, listen to your physician and care team. Prediabetes impacts different people in different ways. Your doctor will sit down with you to formulate a prediabetes health plan that works for your specific needs.

                    That being said, be prepared to make some important lifestyle changes. They will most certainly be a part of any new prediabetes regimen you and your doctor put together. It really comes down to two choices. Either make some substantial changes, or you will be very likely at some point find yourself living with Type 2 diabetes. You do not want that if you can avoid it.

                    Every prediabetes treatment plan is different, but virtually all include addressing the key contributors that are in your control:

                    Dietary Changes
                    Approved Exercise
                    Weight Loss
                    Smoking (if applicable)

                    You doctor might also refer you to the National Diabetes Prevention Program, a partnership of public and private organizations led by the CDC and committed to helping people at risk for Type 2 diabetes make the necessary lifestyle changes to prevent or delay the onset of the disease.


                    Takeaways - let’s accentuate the positive

                    If there is any bright side to prediabetes, it is this – it’s not diabetes yet! There are steps you can take, and lifestyle changes you can make that very well may prevent you from elevating to Type 2 diabetes. Or, at the very least, you can delay the onset and severity of the disease.

                    So, if you’re at risk, talk to your doctor about getting tested. The sooner you know the situation, the more effectively you can address it. 

                    The other dose of positive reality is this. There are more than 34 million Americans currently living with diabetes, and the vast majority of them are leading happy and healthy lives. Plus, with new advancements in diabetes medicine happening all the time, it is getting even easier and more convenient for those with diabetes to manage blood sugar levels.

                    So, if one day you find yourself living with diabetes, remember you are not alone, and, with proper care and treatment, the future is bright.


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