Prediabetes 101: Signs, Symptoms and How to Reverse It

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One-third of United States adults have prediabetes, but does that really matter? After all, these adults aren’t diabetic yet, so the health risk isn’t actually there, right? Wrong. UnityPoint Diabetologist, David Trachtenbarg, MD, talks about how to prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes.

What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels aren’t high enough to diagnose Type 2 diabetes, but without change, will usually develop into diabetes within 10 years.

“The large number of adults who already have prediabetes indicates millions of people will develop diabetes, which is a disease with many serious complications,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

This is the concern of healthcare providers across the country, so much so that some have labeled prediabetes as “an epidemic that’s out of control.” There’s good reason to take prediabetes seriously. Even before an adult is diagnosed with diabetes, prediabetes can start to have negative effects on the body.

“Prediabetes is more common than overt diabetes, if you have prediabetes, you are at increased risk for heart disease and strokes in addition to the risk of developing overt diabetes,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

Signs and Symptoms of Prediabetes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 90% of people with prediabetes don’t know they have it. That’s because it usually doesn’t have symptoms. 

Common Prediabetes Risk Factors:

  • You’re overweight or obese
  • You have a family history of Type 2 diabetes
  • You’re physically active less than 3 times per week
  • You’re age 45 or older
  • You’ve had gestational diabetes during pregnancy
  • You are African American, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian American

“Since prediabetes doesn’t have clear signs and symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood glucose, or blood sugar, tested regularly," Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

How to Read Blood Sugar Results

For someone who is diabetic, a fasting blood glucose result would be 126 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or higher. Blood glucose results would fall in the 100-125 mg/dL for the prediabetes range. 

A provider might also do another blood test, an A1C, which looks at the amount of glucose (sugar) stuck to blood. A1C results of 6.5% or higher would point to diabetes; 5.8-6.4% is categorized as prediabetes.

Blood Test Prediabetes Diabetes
Blood Glucose 100 - 125 mg/dL 126 mg/dL or higher
A1C 5.8% - 6.4% 6.5% or higher

Prediabetes Can be Reversed

Luckily, prediabetes can be reversed. If identified, the progression toward diabetes can be prevented through lifestyle changes, such as diet and regular exercise. 

“Controlling weight is a key factor. For people with prediabetes, even a 5% weight loss can be a powerful preventive measure,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

5 Ways to Reverse or Prevent Prediabetes 

  • Get regular exercise. Try walking, jogging or resistance training for 30 minutes, five times per week. Adding resistance training (weights) three times a week helps even more.
  • Manage stress. Stress can cause you to lose sight of your goals. Try these 11 stress relief activities.
  • Learn about healthy eating. Talk to a UnityPoint Health dietitian or investigate local diabetes education programs.
  • Consider medication. In some cases, healthcare providers may prescribe medication. Talk to your doctor to determine if this is an option for you.
  • Find a support group. People with similar goals and challenges can help you through struggles.

“Participating in a Certified National Diabetes Prevention Program has been shown to reduce your chance of developing diabetes by up to 50%. However, like many other lifestyle changes, these programs require a significant time commitment,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

For questions about reversing prediabetes or prediabetes treatment options, talk to your provider.