Prediabetes: What Elevated Glucose Levels Mean for Your Health

You visit your doctor for your annual physical, and your doctor orders some blood work, then sends you on your way. Later, you receive a call where results indicate that the glucose levels in your blood are high, a clear warning sign for prediabetes.

At first, you might have a lot of questions. How did this happen? What can you do about it? What is prediabetes, anyway? Don’t panic: OKRA Care has all the information you need to understand your prediabetes diagnosis.

Monitoring blood pressure and glucose levels at a doctor’s office

What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes refers to a condition in which a person has higher than normal blood sugar levels. Unlike a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, a person with prediabetes’ glucose levels aren’t high enough to merit intervention through medication or insulin. However, prediabetes does indicate that the body is struggling to process glucose effectively. If left untreated, prediabetes can develop into Type 2 diabetes.

Currently, the CDC estimates that 88 million Americans (about 1 in 3) have prediabetes — and 84% of those living with the condition are unaware of it. This is a serious health crisis, as prediabetes can contribute to significant health problems later in life. Luckily, prediabetes is treatable, which means it is necessary to learn what the warning signs for prediabetes are.

What Causes it?

The most common questions people have about this condition (after “what is prediabetes?”) is, “What caused this?” People want to understand what led to their elevated glucose levels so they can take action to prevent things from progressing.

Unfortunately, science has not identified one primary cause for prediabetes, nor have they determined why one person develops high blood sugars while another person may not. Genetics seems to play a major role in prediabetes, as well as a variety of risk factors that include:

  • Weight (obesity contributes to prediabetes risk)
  • Diet (a diet high in red meat and sugary drinks contributes to prediabetes risk)
  • Age
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Previous gestational diabetes or PCOS
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Smoking
  • Race (Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans may be at a greater risk of prediabetes)

What are the Warning Signs of Prediabetes?

For many individuals, prediabetes is a surprise diagnosis that comes up after a routine health screening. This is because, in many cases, there are no warning symptoms of prediabetes. However, individuals with prediabetes might notice a few symptoms that are common to Type 2 diabetes. These include::

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Darkened skin on certain parts of the body (neck, armpits, elbows, knees, and knuckles)

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. He or she will likely order a Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test to check the glucose levels in your blood.

An A1C level below 5.7% is considered normal, but anything between 5.7% and 6.4% is considered prediabetic. If your A1C is higher than 6.4%, the doctor may order further testing, such as a fasting glucose test. If your A1C is higher than 6.4% on two tests, you will be diagnosed with diabetes.

Does Prediabetes Always Lead to Type 2 Diabetes?

Once a person understands what prediabetes is, they may feel discouraged. After all, their body is already struggling to process glucose — is a lifetime of insulin and health complications just around the corner?

Simply put: of course not. While prediabetes can develop into Type 2 diabetes, this is not inevitable. Individuals with prediabetes can get their glucose levels back under control with careful treatment, most of which involves lifestyle changes.

How Do You Treat It?

Poke bowl with salmon and greens. Balancing your diet with grains, veggies, and reducing red meat can help prevent prediabetes.

People with prediabetes need to take steps to prevent their condition from developing further. If their risk of diabetes is especially high, their doctor might prescribe medication to control their glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol. In less advanced cases, however, the doctor will likely only suggest that the individual change their habits to improve their health.

You can prevent prediabetes from developing further by losing excess weight (studies show that even losing 5% of your body weight can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes). You can also treat your condition by increasing your physical activity each week to 150 minutes a week (30 minutes a day, five days a week), ceasing the use of tobacco products, and eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

These changes will improve your prediabetes — but they’ll also make you feel better overall, making them a great choice for anyone at risk of prediabetes or other health conditions.