Defining prediabetes

At a recent checkup, your doctor told you that you have prediabetes. You’ve heard about Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. But what is prediabetes?

To clearly explain what prediabetes is, let’s first take a look at Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from the bloodstream to the cells of the body. When the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, it can’t turn the sugars and starches you eat into energy.

This type of diabetes was previously known as juvenile diabetes, because it is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. However, the condition can affect people of all ages.  Type 1 diabetes is not related to lifestyle habits and is typically treated with insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t process insulin properly. The pancreas tries to fix the problem by creating extra insulin, but eventually that doesn’t work and glucose levels soar. High blood sugar can damage many areas of the body, including the eyes, heart and kidneys.

This type of diabetes is frequently caused by poor lifestyle habits, such as a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet. Because of this, Type 2 diabetes is treated through a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.

Now, what about prediabetes?

Before a person develops Type 2 diabetes, he or she will likely have prediabetes. Prediabetes occurs when glucose levels are higher than normal but not at the level of Type 2 diabetes.

During your annual physical, a blood glucose test is a standard part of routine lab work. The fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test is the most common. A normal PFG is less than 100 mg/dl. If your PFG is 126 mg/dl or higher, you have Type 2 diabetes. If your levels are between 100 mg/dl and 125 mg/dl, you’re in the danger zone—and likely have prediabetes.

But being diagnosed with prediabetes doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead, think of it as a failing grade on a practice test. If you have prediabetes, you have the opportunity to improve your health and avoid diabetes.

How can you do that?

Basic good health habits—regular exercise and a healthy diet—are a step in that direction. Studies have shown that you can significantly lower your risk of prediabetes turning into Type 2 diabetes by losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight and exercising at least 30 minutes on at least five days each week. For someone who weighs 200 pounds, that’s between 10 and 20 pounds.

With good lifestyle habits, it’s possible to eliminate prediabetes and avoid Type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, without changes, prediabetes is likely to turn into Type 2 diabetes within 10 years.

If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, certain symptoms may mean you’ve developed Type 2 diabetes. See your doctor if you experience:

  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Slow-healing cuts
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

Erlanger North Hospital offers Living Well with Diabetes workshops for those who’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes. Classes are held on Thursdays, with the next series beginning on Sept. 20. To register, call (423) 778-LINK (5465) or sign up here.