Most people are probably reasonably mindful of their health and take steps to take care of themselves.
Going to the dentist for routine check-ups, choosing not to smoke, and aiming to get enough sleep are all great ways to preserve your health.
Despite these good choices, many people don’t know they may still be at risk for one of the most prevalent chronic diseases worldwide: diabetes mellitus.
Therefore, knowing the symptoms of prediabetes and recognising the signs is vital.
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What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes, otherwise known as borderline diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance, is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. It is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes isn’t associated with type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disorder and different from type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes occurs due to insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, and it helps to lower blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels controlled or when the body stops responding to insulin effectively. When this happens, blood sugar levels rise.
Prediabetes is reversible with lifestyle modifications. However, it often progresses to type 2 diabetes within about ten years if it’s left untreated.
There are several known risk factors for developing prediabetes, including:
- Being overweight or obese (body mass index of 25 or greater)
- Carrying excess weight around your midsection
- Being 45 years or older
- Having an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes
- Being physically active less than three times per week
- Having had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or birthed a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
- Being a smoker
- Having high blood pressure
Symptoms of prediabetes
Prediabetes symptoms are similar to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms and occur due to high blood sugar. If you have any symptoms of prediabetes along with a risk factor, there is a good chance you may have prediabetes.
Elevated blood glucose levels cause an imbalance of dissolved particles in the urine. When there is a lot of sugar in the urine due to high blood sugar levels, the body attempts to dilute the sugar by pulling more fluid from the body. This results is increased urine volume, which occurs because the kidneys absorb less water, and more is excreted as urine.
Increased thirst is connected to the increased urination resulting from high blood sugar levels. If you’re losing more fluids due to increased urination, it can cause dehydration. Dehydration stimulates thirst, which then contributes to the increased urination from drinking more water.
Losing weight without trying
Your body’s cells require glucose for energy, and glucose is the preferred energy source over other sources. Without enough insulin to allow glucose to feed the cells, the body starts burning fat and muscle for energy instead. This leads to unintentional weight loss and can also increase hunger to provide enough energy for your body to function when blood glucose levels are high.
Feeling more hungry
Similar to the reason for unintentional weight loss, you may feel more hungry because your body is unable to get the energy it needs when blood sugar levels stay high. If you’ve had undiagnosed prediabetes for a long time, you may notice a more intense hunger as your body resorts to burning stored fat and muscle.
Acanthosis nigricans is a skin condition characterized by dark, velvety patches of skin, typically appearing in skin folds such as on the neck, groin, and armpits.
This condition is often a sign of insulin resistance and prediabetes. It can occur in people without blood sugar issues, but it’s much less common. Children with insulin resistance can also develop acanthosis nigricans.
Without enough sugar to fuel your body, you may feel more tired than normal. If you’re feeling fatigued despite getting good sleep, it could be a symptom of prediabetes. However, fatigue can be a symptom of many other health issues. Therefore, you should check your blood glucose levels to rule out other potential causes.
Blood sugar changes can affect your vision and cause retinopathy when nerve damage occurs in the eye. Nerve damage typically occurs when you’ve had diabetes for a while, but it can sometimes happen in prediabetes as well.
When to see a doctor
If you’re at risk of prediabetes and have any of the common symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for type 2 diabetes in all people aged 40-70 and who are overweight and repeating the test every three years if the results are normal. The American Diabetes Association recommends annual diabetes screening for all people 45 years and older or those younger than 45 years with major risk factors.
Your healthcare provider will likely screen you for prediabetes using a fasting plasma glucose test. This measures your blood sugar levels when you’ve been fasting for at least eight hours. Or a hemoglobin A1c test, which measures your average blood sugar over the past three months. Other possible screening tests include an oral glucose tolerance test, which measures your blood glucose levels after drinking a sugary drink.
Chronic high blood sugar damages blood vessels, which are the lifeline to all of our body’s systems. If prediabetes progresses to type 2 diabetes, many potential complications can arise from damage to blood vessels, such as:
People with diabetes are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, increasing heart attack and stroke risk. Insulin resistance can trigger high blood pressure, and people with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure than people without diabetes. High blood pressure also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys. Chronic high blood sugar can result in kidney disease, which impairs the kidney’s ability to filter blood. End-stage kidney disease often requires dialysis and sometimes kidney transplants.
High blood glucose can cause damage to nerves, resulting in numbness, tingling, and a burning sensation. The most common form of neuropathy pertaining to high blood sugar is diabetic neuropathy, which commonly impacts the legs and feet.
Having diabetes impairs your body’s ability to heal and also puts you at risk of getting infections more easily. You’re especially prone to complicated injuries if you have nerve damage, which interferes with your ability to sense pain and identify a wound. People with diabetes are more likely to require amputations for poorly healing wounds, especially on the feet.
Vision problems and blindness
Nerve damage to the retina causes retinopathy, which can lead to blindness if untreated.
There is a connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is referred to as type 3 diabetes because of this correlation, which is likely triggered by insulin resistance.
Prediabetes treatment and prevention
Prevention and treatment of prediabetes are the same and consist of healthy lifestyle changes. Some people with prediabetes may choose to take metformin. This is a popular type 2 diabetes medication that helps the liver release less sugar. However, most people prefer to try lifestyle changes before resorting to medications.
Losing 5-10% of your body weight is one of the most effective ways to reverse prediabetes. You can achieve weight loss through healthy lifestyle changes such as:
Regular physical activity
Getting more movement is one of the best ways to improve insulin resistance and help reverse prediabetes. Muscle tissue takes up glucose during exercise, even in the presence of insulin resistance. Blood sugar levels tend to be lower after being active and can even remain lower for up to 24 hours after physical activity!
Aim to get 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days of the week, with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week. Strength training, such as weight lifting, bodyweight exercises, or other resistance training, can also help improve insulin sensitivity and improve glucose tolerance.
An excellent way to gauge if your activity is considered moderate is if you can talk but can’t sing while you’re doing it.
Cut back on sugars
Added sugars are a major problem in many processed foods. Cereals, yogurts, granola bars, and even savory foods can have sugar added to them, spiking blood sugar and insulin levels. Check the label and aim to get no more than 50 grams of added sugar per day.
Watch your carbohydrate intake
Carbohydrates turn into glucose when digested, so they have the biggest impact on blood sugar levels. Grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and some dairy products contain carbohydrates. Eating a diet that consists primarily of carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates and those with added sugars, may worsen high blood sugar. Aim to make half of your plate non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate protein, and a quarter of the plate starch, such as the Plate Method.
Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes often develops into type 2 diabetes if lifestyle changes aren’t made, such as increasing physical activity and making healthy eating choices.
There are several risk factors for prediabetes. So knowing your risk factors and getting screened at the appropriate time is one of the best ways to reverse prediabetes. Understanding the symptoms of prediabetes can also lead to a more prompt diagnosis, which improves the likelihood of preventing diabetes.