How to Recognize Prediabetes and Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that can affect every part of your body, but you can often prevent it by learning how to recognize early signs and symptoms.

The statistics on type 2 diabetes are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29.1 million men, women and children (9.3 percent of the population) have the disease. And nearly one-third of these people are undiagnosed.

While there’s certainly a genetic component to type 2 diabetes, environmental influences have a huge impact on whether or not you develop the disease and how it progresses (if not well-managed, diabetes can cause complications such as heart disease, kidney failure and blindness). This is good news because it means that even if you have an inherited predisposition to developing type 2 diabetes, your fate is not sealed. Your choices, habits and behaviors can actually change your health destiny.

Preventing the disease is often within your power, and is obviously a much better option than managing the disease. The first step to dodging the diabetes bullet: Knowing the signs and symptoms of prediabetes, the “red flag” condition that precedes diabetes.

You’re at risk for prediabetes if you:

  • Are overweight (this is defined as a body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight, over 25)
  • Are older than 45
  • Live a sedentary lifestyle
  • Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Are of African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage
  • Had gestational diabetes during your pregnancy or had a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds at birth
  • Have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have high triglycerides (more than 250 mg/dL) or low “good” cholesterol, known as HDL (less than 35 mg/dL)

Signs of prediabetes may include symptoms typically associated with diabetes, such as:

• Increased thirst and urination

• Blurred vision

• Fatigue

• Darkened areas of skin on the neck, underarms, elbows, knees and knuckles, a condition called acanthosis nigricans
However, there are often no clear signs or symptoms of prediabetes, which is why it’s extremely important to work with your physician, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant and/or registered dietitian to monitor certain lab values related to blood sugar levels.

You are diagnosed with prediabetes when you have a:

  • Fasting blood glucose—a measure of how much sugar (or glucose) is in your blood after a period of fasting—of 100 to125 mg/dL
  • Two-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) blood glucose of 140 to199 mg/dL; this test gauges how your body breaks down sugar while drinking a sugar-based beverage over a two-hour period.
  • Hemoglobin A1C of 5.7 to 6.4%; this is a measure of your average blood sugar level over three months.

Estimates indicate that 25 percent of people with prediabetes will go onto develop type 2 diabetes within three to five years (that percentage goes up with each year)—but again, this is not written in stone. If you take steps to modify your diet, achieve and maintain a healthy weight and incorporate regular physical activity into your life, you can absolutely reverse the progression of diabetes.

In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, you can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes by 58 percent with moderate exercise (just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) and a 7 percent reduction in body weight (that’s only about 15 pounds if you currently weigh 200 pounds).

To learn more about how food affects diabetes, click here.

Also check out these ideas about diabetes-friendly breakfasts, snacks and desserts.