You may have heard people talking about diabetes in terms of type 1 and type 2, with maybe an occasional reference to gestational diabetes. There is another word that’s useful to know though, and that’s “prediabetes”, the informal description of the stage just before you develop diabetes proper.
It’s important because if you know the warning signs for diabetes, you can take steps to avoid its progression. Type 1 may be unavoidable, but there are lifestyle changes that can reduce the chances of developing type 2. If a doctor tells you you have prediabetes, those lifestyle changes take on new urgency. Act quickly and you may be able to reverse things.
The trouble is, prediabetes rarely has symptoms. You may get some thirstiness or tiredness, or need to urinate more, but quite often the only real sign is elevated blood sugar levels. You’ll only know that if you get your blood sugar tested, and most people aren’t doing that on a regular basis.
That’s when knowing the risk factors for type 2 diabetes can come in handy. If you’re in a high-risk category, for whatever reason, you know you need to keep an eye on your blood sugar. The CDC has put together a test that you can use to calculate your personal level of risk (https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/pdf/Prediabetes-Risk-Test-Final.pdf).
For example, once you’re in your forties, the chances of developing prediabetes that goes on to diabetes will increase. It gets even higher through your fifties and sixties. Men are more likely to have prediabetes than women. Family history is another major factor, as is whether you’ve ever had gestational diabetes yourself. High blood pressure can be a danger sign. Then there’s weight, often cited as the leading cause of type 2 diabetes.
If you’re at risk, you need to talk to your doctor before you can confirm your blood sugar levels and if you need to start adapting your lifestyle. If you do, the main focus is going to be eating healthily (less salt, fat and sugar), exercising regularly (particularly cardiovascular exercise) and trying to lose weight. This may be enough to reverse prediabetes before it can progress.
In some of the most severe cases, medication like metformin and acarbose may be used. The main hope is that these early interventions mean you will not go on to develop type 2 diabetes and its associated health problems.