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Suspect something’s up with your blood sugar? It might be prediabetes. As with most health conditions, there’s good news and bad news here.
Let’s start with the bad: Prediabetes is kinda serious. It’s also called borderline diabetes and most people (like, 90 percent of them) have no idea they have it.
Now, for the good: You’re so not alone in this. More than one in three U.S. adults have been diagnosed with borderline diabetes. Even better, a diagnosis doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever develop type 2 diabetes.
If you take the right action, you can prevent type 2 diabetes and even reverse your prediabetes.
A prediabetes diagnosis often comes as a surprise — it’s common to show no symptoms whatsoever. When symptoms do pop up, they may include:
- darker skin in your armpits or on the back or sides of your neck
- small growths called skin tags in the same areas
- changes in vision (though this is more common in people with diabetes)
If you start to feel thirsty all the time, can’t stop peeing, or feel exhausted for no reason, that might mean your prediabetes has progressed to type 2, so get yourself to the doctor, stat!
You may also want to get familiar with the symptoms of diabetes.
Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels are high — but not so high that you would be classified as having type 2 diabetes.
Your doctor might mention “intermediate hyperglycemia” (the official diagnosis), or they might say something like “your blood sugar is high” or “you have borderline diabetes.”
With prediabetes, your pancreas can still make insulin to respond to the carbs you eat (yay!), but you develop insulin resistance, meaning the hormone isn’t able to remove sugar from your bloodstream as efficiently as it should.
This insulin resistance is what keeps your blood glucose levels high.
About 5 to 10 percent of people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes each year. Those are good odds — you can work with that. And lifestyle changes can have a big impact, reducing risks by 40 to 70 percent!
It’s easier to check whether you’re at risk for prediabetes than to spot actual symptoms. The risk factors for prediabetes include:
- having overweight
- having high cholesterol
- a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome (which includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a large waist circumference)
- having a parent or sibling with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis
- being over 45 years old
- exercising less than three times per week
- your race or ethnicity, as people who are African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, or Native Alaskan are at a higher risk
- a PCOS diagnosis
- a gestational diabetes diagnosis (now or in the past), or birthing a baby that weighed over 9 pounds
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have a handy assessment you can take to see whether you’re at high risk.
Since the symptoms of prediabetes can be hard to spot, early detection is clutch, so don’t skip your annual wellness exam and physical. If you do have symptoms, don’t hesitate to call your doctor ASAP!
Your doctor will likely use one of two blood tests to help them diagnose prediabetes — the hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c test, or in some cases, an oral glucose tolerance test.
While your doctor might prescribe metformin, a prescription drug used to treat diabetes, they’ll likely start by recommending the usual “lifestyle changes” like quitting smoking (if you smoke), losing weight, eating a healthier diet, and exercising regularly.
“Lifestyle changes” can be a blanket term for shifting your health and wellness routine, and if you’re juggling a new diagnosis, vague generalities like that don’t offer much help.
When it comes to prediabetes, a few specific things are recommended to help improve and even reverse the condition — and really, they’re not that bad, so get on it. These apps can make your life easier, too!
- Get moving and keep moving. Aim for at least 2.5 hours of exercise per week, and do a combination of moderate intensity cardio and strength training. You’ll also boost your heart health and lower stress, which will in turn reduce more risk factors.
- Manage your weight. Having overweight is a red flag for prediabetes, so losing weight can help you control blood sugar levels. Shedding 5 to 7 percent (that’s about 9 to 12 pounds for a 175-pound person) of your total body weight can help, according to the CDC. Check with your doctor first to get an exact number to aim for!
- Eat more fiber and fewer carbs. A lower-carb diet that focuses on fiber-rich whole foods can help manage both diabetes and prediabetes. Don’t try to eliminate carbs completely — women should aim for 30 to 45 grams per meal, while men should aim for 45 to 60 grams.
- Drink more water and less soda (and vodka soda). That means drink some water, you awesome, thirsty human! Staying hydrated can help keep hunger in check, and cutting down on sugary drinks and booze is a simple way to cut calories. (Not to mention, both refined sugars and excessive drinking are linked to higher blood sugar.)
- Cut back on sugar. While having a sweet tooth won’t cause diabetes, there’s definitely a strong link between consuming sugar and developing the condition. Drinking even one sweetened beverage per day can elevate your risk. Sugar is sneaky and lurks in unlikely places — you’ll find added sugars (the kind you want to avoid) in everything from yogurt and granola to canned soup and salad dressings. Don’t let marketing labels fool you: “organic,” “gluten-free,” and “natural” foods can all still contain sugar (or one of its many aliases).
- Beware of the fakes. While “diet” drinks and artificial sweeteners used to be touted as “diabetes-friendly,” their health halo has tarnished and they’re no longer recommended. Instead, find ways to cut back on sugar — like one less pump of syrup in your beloved PSL or swapping in a dash of cinnamon for a spoonful of sugar in your coffee. You can also reach for natural sugar sources when that sweet craving hits (we’re talking fruits instead of Fruit Roll-Ups).
- Find your people. Look around — with so many people also dealing with prediabetes, chances are good someone in your circle has been through this. Reach out to trusted friends for tips or turn to social media. Find a Facebook group or search hashtags on Instagram. Having support can help you get through rough days, offer meal inspiration, and remind you that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Talk to the pros. Your doctor may be able to recommend a prediabetes support group (many hospitals and practices have them). You might also want to work with a dietitian specially trained in dealing with prediabetes (search for “certified diabetes educators”). A couple of sessions with a professional may help you feel more confident in making changes to your diet and lifestyle.
- Keep calm and carry on. Chronic stress is another risk factor for developing diabetes, so keep up with your favorite calming self-care practices to help manage your blood sugar. Whether it’s watching cat videos on YouTube, a weekly yoga class, or meditating in the sauna at the gym, your Zen habits of choice can benefit your mind and body.
- If you smoke, no more smoking. Period. We know how hard it is, but trust us on this one. It’s a good change for everyone and helps just about every health condition. The more you smoke, the higher your risk.
- Prediabetes is a serious yet common condition where your blood sugar levels are high (but not so high you have type 2 diabetes).
- Prediabetes can be controlled — and even reversed, like T2D can be — through lifestyle changes and/or medication.
- Prediabetes is often silent, so it’s important to know the risk factors and have annual wellness exams.
- Prediabetes doesn’t change how awesome you are. Here are 16 more tips for living your best life — while preventing diabetes.